The Watch circular
Perhaps aware they have lost the theological argument our principal opponents now return to political pressure as in this circular sent a month ago to all their members
Dear Watch Member,
It is my opinion that we face a threat as serious as any we have faced before in the long journey towards women's full inclusion in the ordained ministries of the Church of England. Even at this eleventh hour, those who oppose ordaining women are summoning all their strength to delay, distort, subvert and destroy the will of General Synod as expressed in the debates over the past few years.
Last July the House of Bishops brought to Synod a clear motion about the way to move forward with opening the episcopate to women. Over a dozen amendments covering a range of options were also considered. Although an amendment proposing the simplest statutory provision that Watch wanted was rejected, the slightly amended House of Bishops motion was something most of those in favour of women as bishops could support.
Since then there has been a concerted backlash by those opposing women as bishops. The manner of the debate, the use of electronic voting, the results of the vote and now even the competence of General Synod to decide upon having women as bishops has been challenged. Some of those opposed have said that Synod got it wrong' and claim that a Code of Practice cannot give them the 'protection they need.
The House of Bishops is in disarray on this matter, sadly, with some of its members being swayed by the threats and demands of those who oppose women's ordination. Over the next month or so the Legislative Drafting Group will be writing its report to present to the House of Bishops. In December the bishops are meeting to consider the report and to decide the content of the motion to bring to Synod in February 2009.
If the opponents get their way there will be two classes of bishops and effectively two churches: one which recognises the ministry of women priests and bishops and one which does not.
There is still time for you to write to the Legislative Drafting Group to let them know that we do not want Legislation or a Code of Practice that discriminates against bishops who are women. In particular, we would like to bring to an end the provisions of the Act of Synod with its separately consecrated bishops. Please send your letter as soon as possible to... Here are some points you may wish to include:
• Codes of Practice are well recognised and reliable and can be rigorously enforced. A statutory Code of Practice is something to which all concerned will have to have due regard.
• The Code must include only arrangements that retain the current structure of the Church and the current nature of the Episcopate. A structure would, separate in effect, create two separate churches. If our goal is to retain the unity of our Episcopate, then creating separate structures will effectively destroy that unity and build walls between the bishops, clergy and members of our Church.
• Make the current Provincial Episcopal Visitors (flying bishops) full assistant bishops and do not consecrate any more PEVs. There must be no more separately consecrated bishops. Having these flying bishops has contributed to a concept of taint, not only for priest and bishops who have ministered with ordained women, but for anyone who even agrees with ordaining women. This is modern day Donatism and must not be allowed to continue. Never before in the history of the Church has a diversity of views led to the creation of an alternative episcopal structure.
• Please do not delay this process. General Synod has voted a number of times on this issue and has debated it fully over many years.
Please also write to the Chair of the House of Bishops...
In addition to the points above, you may wish to include comments about the following:
• As the Established Church we should be leading the way against discrimination against women.
• Parliament is likely to pass legislation only if it is free from discrimination.
• Has anyone considered the damaging and demoralising effect further delay or discrimination would have on our women clergy? (There are nearly 3,000 serving women clergy.)
• Consider our ecumenical relationships, especially with the Methodist Church. (The Roman Catholic Church still does not recognise any Anglican orders and the main barriers to fuller unity between our two Churches have nothing to do with ordaining women.)
• The vast majority of people in the parishes want women to be allowed to be bishops. They are part of the silent majority and their voice has not been ade-* m quately heard or listened to. Most A. \*J of these people would not make demands or threaten to leave, but they are counting on the Church to move ahead positively. • Has anyone considered the numbers of clergy and lay people who would leave the Church if the legislation for women bishops is discriminatory or delayed much longer? The focus seems to have been on a small vociferous group.
The Church of England is in desperate need of having women among its episcopal leaders. If our bishops are to speak with authority and authenticity to our Church and to our world, then there must be women serving as bishops.
We must do all we can to ensure that the legislation and Code of Practice to permit women to be bishops will not be determined by those who do think that women should not, or even cannot, be ordained! We are in serious danger of b eing held to ransom by a minority which purports to be the only faithful Anglicans, and yet they are willing to destroy the structure and unity of the Church in order to 'protect' themselves from the ministry of ordained women.
We have faith that before too long women will be able to be bishops, but the terms of the legislation and Code of Practice are crucial. Earlier this year some of the most senior women clergy and large numbers of their clergy colleagues, both female and male, let it be known that they would rather wait than to move ahead with discriminatory legislation. However, there will be no need to wait if the Legislative Drafting Group and the House of Bishops produce fair arrangements.
With my love and prayers,
Chair, National Watch
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