This week was a highly significant one for the Church of England, and for all the wrong reasons. After narrowly failing in a vote to allow women bishops there are many within the church who feel bitter and led down about what happened and plenty outside who are questioning what century we’re living in. In the words of David Cameron, why can’t the Church just ‘get with the programme’?
Women’s ministry has not been a big issue in conversation these ten months I’ve been at St Mary’s. I’ve not preached on it on Sunday and there’s been no conversation about it at our church council (PCC), so I can’t claim to speak on behalf of our church here. What I have found is that not everyone feels the same, so I am almost bound to offend someone whatever I say. It’s a very important issue, though, so I do feel I need to say something.
The events of this week have greatly disappointed and saddened me. Personally I see no reason why women should not be allowed to take up any position of leadership in the Church, and during my time at St Mary’s gender will not play a role in whether and how I encourage someone in ministry.
But that’s not a whole lot to do with ‘getting with the programme’. As Evangelical Anglican Tom Wright has said this week the Church would not have got very far in the first century by getting with the programme of the rulers of the time. It’s important to acknowledge, therefore, that sometimes the Church have courage and stand against the way the world thinks.
That said, I do not think this week is one of those times. In scripture I see Jesus as radically inclusive of women in his ministry beyond all expectations of his time, and Paul writing in Galatians that in Christ all barriers have been broken down, including those of men and women (Galatians 3:28ff). At some point, with love and respect and underpinned by lots of prayer, St Mary’s needs to have a conversation about what we believe here.
I think this week has also caught us short as a church, locally as well as nationally. Nationally when 42 out of 44 dioceses passed the measure and the overwhelming majority of those locally and regionally are for the move, how can it be that those who voted at General Synod were so unrepresentative?
Locally at St Mary’s we need to reflect on why we’re not as engaged as we should be with the wider Church, and why for most of us the first news of the vote would have been what we read in the papers. It may be some time before another vote takes place, but by then I hope we will be a bit more considered as a congregation and have at least some representation on Diocesan Synod.
In the meantime please pray for those who struggle with the result of this week’s vote, and for those who feel the sharp end of our culture by opposing it. Above all pray that Christ’s one church would not let this issue or any other prevent the unity that Jesus himself prayed for us.
Rich Burley, 24th November 2012