Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Women Bishops - one step forwards

Where were you on the day that Kennedy was shot? Or John Lennon? Or that Eagle landed on the moon? Or 9/11 or 7/7? We like to speak of 'the day the world changed', after which nothing could ever be the same again. That day, for me, was in November 1992.

Driving home from (of all things prophetic) a church leader's conference at St Andrews Chorleywood I switched on the car radio. There, in the middle lane of the M25 the newsreader's voice announced that General Synod had voted in favour of ordaining women as priests, and my involuntary shout of  'Yes, God, thank you' was not triumphant; it came from the sudden and unexpected relief of a weight being taken from me; a weight of oppression and pain at almost 2000 years of 'Church' diminution of women that I hadn't even been aware of carrying. To my surprise, (for I had no personal interest then in being ordained and had not been involved in any campaigning) I found myself crying with thankfulness that God could break through in my lifetime to address such a fundamental injustice. For me, the debate about the role of women in the church has always been an issue of justice. And so it continues.

After the tension of the last few days, the news of the vote yesterday to press ahead with the measure that will allow women to be consecrated as Bishops seemed low-key and almost an anti-climax. Simply put, it was the 'right' decision. Another barrier that should not have been there has been removed. It is less about creating something new than about righting a wrong.

My mind drifted back to 1992. What is the difference? Maybe because it was so obvious to so many that the ministry of women has been proved by experience? Maybe because, as we seek to proclaim the gospel afresh to each generation, it was the only decision that those outside the church could understand?

In my final interview with the Diocesan Bishop before he agreed to send me to a Bishops Advisory Panel (to test my calling to ordained ministry) I said that I thought it was still easier for white, middle-class, privately-educated, heterosexual men to be priests in the Church of England than for anyone else, and that this needed to change if the people of the country were to see the church as relevant to their lives. While I spoke the truth, I also thought that saying this to a white, middle-class... Bishop would probably be the end of the ordination journey for me. However, he agreed with me, and I bless him for his tolerance of my railing against the institution I was being called to join. Did he too, at that moment, imagine he could hear Jesus laughing in the background? I hope so.

Yesterday was not about triumphalism, but it was about joy - the joy of seeing more of God's people being given the opportunity to move one step closer to the full expression of humanity that God has called them to, and which we are all called to share.


  1. I share your joy about yesterday's General Synod outcome, while remembering that it is an occasion of grief for some who also seek to be faithful to God. Interested in your November 1992 story. I also heard that news while driving - thankfully I was not like you on a motorway as I immediately burst into tears (of joy)and had to pull off the road to have time to recover.

  2. an excellent reflection Helen, bringing home the point that God often works inspite of us!

  3. Seeker, thank you for your comments, and yes, I acknowledged yesterday that there wasn't a pain-free option.

    Sally - all I can say to that is,thank God :-)