Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Women Bishops ….shark infested waters, expectations and the media!

I was going to blog from General Synod but I’m much better at ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ (Wordsworth) – or at least the relative tranquillity of home compared to Synod. There are some great synod bloggers whose blogs you can find at if you want a flavour of Synod as it went. If you read them – especially Justin Brett’s (a good friend) you might understand why it’s taken me a week to write!!

For the second or third time now I’ve been at a meeting of General Synod about which it has been possible for the press to report that the Church of England has agreed to have women Bishops. The reality is that it’s a long way off yet - rather like the Kingdom in R S Thomas wonderful poem of that name!* Therein, as they say, lies the problem. Most places I go people have read the papers and offer their congratulations – but do I feel like cheering? Frankly – No!

Of course I would be delighted if the Synod had made this decision and I AM pleased that we have taken another step along that path. BUT I am also really dismayed for a number of reasons.
First the ‘shark infested waters’ – if you have read the Bishop of Oxford’s Pastoral letter published immediately after Synod ( you’ll know that I have said this! Over the last several years two groups of people with strongly held views have, for the most part, gradually come closer together and really do not now stand so very far apart. Asked by their leaders for generosity and compromise they have done their best - one side is no longer asking for a ‘single clause measure’ (women can be Bishop’s full stop) nor the other for a ‘third province’ (Church within a Church) so we have moved. The water between us that Synod – and the Archbishops – failed to bridge is that of ‘transfer’ versus ‘delegation’. Would a woman Bishop be really a Bishop if she had to transfer her authority to someone else and could someone who genuinely believed she wasn’t a Bishop accept that she could delegate her authority?
The most dangerous ‘sharks’ are lack of trust, fear and the taking of public positions. I’m not yet certain whether the waters are murky and the sharks just magnified by my own worst fears – or whether they are deep and much too dangerous to attempt a crossing. I could never do those ‘reasoning’ puzzles about single boats, foxes and hens crossing to the other side of such rivers when I was at school but there were people who could and I wish they would!! However, in our present situation that’s tantamount to asking someone to wave a magic wand to do work that I need to do by the sweat of my own brow!
Another reason for my dismay is that even people of good will don’t really grasp how it feels to be a woman in this debate. At Synod I sat in a meeting of friends and colleagues (albeit of differing opinions) when three men talked about whether I might want to be asked to offer my opinion. This was so much like what it sometimes feels to be a woman in the midst of these discussions that I was reduced to tears (VERY embarrassing). I’m not convinced that anyone much understood why!

Finally I am dismayed by some of the press reporting – interviewed by Phil Mercer and Malcolm Boyden on Radio Oxford I recognised myself, even if I knew I’d been typically long winded, at once the great advantage and worst disadvantage of a live interview!! In print half a reply can be reported as the whole and it can sound rather different from your original comment! Having read the interview with the Bishop of Fulham in yesterday’s Sunday Times (Women priests made me take up smoking again is one of the tamer comments!) I can only hope that he feels the same! Reporters are looking for adversarial positions and we often seem only too willing to offer them – or too careless not to. Maybe we should ALL refuse all interviews – and NOT do blogging and maybe then we would find it easier to talk and trust!

And for the record … lest you want to ask … there are many women in the Church of England who will, I believe make wonderful Bishops – and I long for the day when that is possible. But it is for God and the Church to call them not me – or any journalist – to name them!!

*Here’s the poem – what it says is worth more than all the reams of paper expended on Women Bishops!!

The Kingdom by R S Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

(Blogged by Rev. Canon Sue Booys, Rector of Dorchester Abbey)

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