It has not been a very good week for women in the Church of England. Actually, let me rephrase that… it has not been a good week for anyone in the Church of England. Their synod met to decide whether women priests could be bishops or not. They voted not. Well, actually they voted yes, but because they needed 2/3 in each house and didn’t get the majority in the House of Laity, it fell. Of course, it was a silly vote to be having really because if you allow women to be priests then there really is no argument against them being bishops. Some fundamentalists will argue that the bible speaks against women as leaders in the church, although quite what a priest is if she’s not a leader is beyond me.
Now we in Scotland have already addressed this issue. When the ordination of women went through our Primus at the time was Richard Holloway. He was a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ kind of guy. Support women or leave. And a handful did. A few more stayed and grumbled a bit and one or two went over to the Ordinariate recently but you could count them on the fingers of two hands really. In England they weren’t brave enough to say ‘like it or lump it’ and they allowed flying bishops and all sorts of panderings to those who couldn’t accept women in the church. It led to some awful situations and a hideous concept known as the theology of taint. I can’t even bring myself to explain what that means.
So this week the Church of England has found itself in all the newspapers and on every talk show. For all the wrong reasons. It has appeared to be completely irrelevant and out of date. People who don’t go to Church are bewildered at those who do. Why on earth would you go to a place where such inequality exists? (And let’s not start on the gay issue.)
I used to be against the ordination of women. When I first joined the church it was one of those bells and smells ones where Father knows best. Father told me it was wrong and I believed him, like many others. You see, I didn’t think for myself or read anything – I just accepted that Father told the truth. Perhaps there are still people who believe the same because ‘Father’ told them. But in time I changed my mind. I read and I listened and I met women who happened to be priests. And I couldn’t really say that the Holy Spirit had not called them. How could I? How could I say to them that they must have imagined it? I mean, there were some seriously holy women out there. Of course, talking to my friends was all the more difficult but in time it all became well, all manner of thing became well.
This week I didn’t sign the petition which was going around before the vote took place. I didn’t sign it because it would not have brought about an equal footing for women bishops. Now that the vote has failed, I am sad. I am sad but in a way I am also hopeful. Hopeful that this time the vote will be reconsidered and that all shall be well. This time it needs to be exactly the same.
And perhaps the Church of England, and all churches, will look at how they elect their Lay Representatives. I know in our own church the same person has done it for years. Nobody else wants to do it. Nobody else wants to sign up to a job which requires going to Synod and Area Councils. I don’t know why – I would have loved to do it when I was new in the church, but was too frightened to stand against a man who’d been doing it for donkeys years. When I came back to this Area Council after being away for five years, it was the same people who were Lay Reps for the churches. And if you look around you at Synod you will see that the average age profile of those lay representatives is certainly well over 60. Perhaps we need to be a bit more careful in future when electing our representatives. We only have ourselves to blame. (Our own Lay Rep is lovely by the way, if she’s reading this!!)
This week I pray for all my friends south of the border. I pray for all those women who are in positions of leadership already and who might have been considered suitable for nomination. I pray and I weep at the unholy mess.