Andy Hawes writes an open letter to John Saxbee
Dear Bishop John,
As one of the few incumbents in your diocese who serves parishes which enjoy extended episcopal care under the Act of Synod it falls to me to make a response, on behalf of New Directions, to your article ‘The Act of Synod: A Salutary Tale.’ This article is the ‘Epilogue’ to a collection of briefing papers, distributed to General Synod Members, produced by lobby groups in favour of women bishops. I think it true to say that you don’t like the Act of Synod very much and you feel it is ‘time to let it go’.
You summon up a wonderful collection of metaphors to express your thoughts and feelings. The Act of Synod is Trojan Horse (which has lost its way); it is a bridge (that needs checking); the CofE is a plane and the Bishops are pilots (people change the pilot instead of repairing the plane). It was the price of the prize. It is paper over the cracks.
Metaphors are best used in expressing experience and concepts that elude the naked prose of ordered thought. It seems to me that the Act of Synod and its workings evoke a muddled response from you. This is not difficult to understand – as you remind the reader that you once spoke for it, and voted for it, but now want it scrapped. You want to swap pilot seats, blow up the bridge before you check it, have a refund but keep the prize, expose the cracks and dismantle the Trojan Horse you helped build. It sounds like a bit of a mess to me!
There is one clear conclusion in your paper with which I agree wholeheartedly:
The Act of Synod was necessary to ensure that the Women’s Ordination Measure went through Parliament. It was the product of political expediency. One question is worth asking: was it the political expediency of Paul appealing to the emperor, or was the political expediency of Caiaphas appealing to Pilate? Was it a Gospel act or a political power act? It would seem, from what you write, that it was the necessary price for the good of the people rather than a call to justice to let God’s Truth flourish. Indeed, the one ‘political aim’ that you are now insistent on is the need to ‘restore full sacramental and pastoral oversight to the Diocesan Bishops’.
You recognize that the Act of Synod has worked. There are no no-go dioceses for women ordained priest; there were fewer clergy and lay people on boats across the Tiber and Bosphorous. I, with many others would testify to the amazing grace that has been received through the Act of Synod’s creation – the PEVs. I don’t think you would ever realize the spiritual, emotional and physical pain and distress the Act has saved and healed. I think the real problem with the Act of Synod lies precisely in this place of deep distress. There are great numbers of people like myself who have ‘CofE’ running through them like a stick of rock, who have never been convinced by the theological arguments and whose consciences find it impossible to accept even the possibility of women priests.
I have invested much into trying to make the Act of Synod work, taking my guidance from Bonds of Peace (its accompanying pastoral and theological paper), and for the most part it has been thrown back in my face. You argue that the Act has encouraged cruelty to women. Please recognize the fact that the deliberate and willed ignorance of the same Act has wounded my family and me. I have a very interesting file of letters that I have collected over the past ten years; I would be happy to share them with you. It will not do to claim that women priests alone have suffered pain.
You write that ‘of course we must listen to them and learn from them about how we might provide for their continuing with us into God’s future. ’ Please listen to and learn this. The impairment of communion, recognized by the Act of Synod, is the only way to express, with integrity to all sides, the deep divides in fundamental Christian understanding that exist between us. We do no favours to God or man by papering over this credibility gap. I believe that the ordination of women is not of the Gospel; that it undermines the revelation of God’s will in creation, in the incarnation of the Eternal Word, in the Holy Tradition of Scripture and the Church Fathers. I believe it is contrary to the gracious patriarchy of God Almighty.
I believe that I have the right to remain in the Church of my Baptism and ordination. I believe that I should be free to live out and proclaim this Faith without fear of prejudice. I believe that the Measure that permits women priests to become bishops should include ecclesial provisions to enable myself and others like me to remain within the Anglican Communion (as far as it exists). These provisions should be part of the Act of Parliament itself. I would like to be part of the city not shut up in a wooden horse of someone else’s making and dragged in reluctantly out of fear or superstition.
Andy Hawes is Vicar of Edenham with Witham-on-the-Hill in the Diocese of Lincoln.
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