Female bishops: no more delays, please

Emma John of the Observer visited with four women who might one day be bishops in the Church of England to find out what they made of the row over this issue:

REV Rose Hudson-Wilkin sits in her vicarage in Hackney, jabbing at her kitchen table with her finger. “No, no, no!” she says, punctuating each word with a little stab. “The church should not” – another stab – “be held to ransom.” The Jamaican-born vicar of All Saints Haggerston has no sympathy for clergy who complain they are being pushed out of the Church of England. “Rubbish! You’re pushing your own self out!” she says, bristling with energy. “Here we are – women have laboured for years and years in the church, and I’m not aware of them saying: ‘Well, because they’re not ordaining us, we’re going to take up our marbles and go.’ So I have gross impatience with that.”

Like Hedges and Winkett, Hudson-Wilkin is another tipped for a future career in the House of Bishops. She was also in the first crop of women priests ordained in 1994 – she says her joy at the occasion “was matched by sadness for the women who I knew had given their lives to the church but not been able to receive the ordination”. She is now, in her forties, one of the Queen’s chaplains. I ask whether she’s concerned at the prospect of the evangelical churches withdrawing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in funding. “Let them!” she snorts. “I don’t think we ought to be worried about people taking their money and setting up alternative structures. There’s a lot of power games going on. And when I read the gospel, the gospel is not about that.”

Winkett, too, believes the church should no longer be seeking compromise and inclusion at all costs. “The number of people who really can’t accept this is extremely small,” she says. “That doesn’t mean they should be dismissed, but they should be put in context. This is not one person arguing for, one person arguing against.” Forward in Faith and Reform between them have a combined individual membership of 24,000; the Church of England has a regular worshipping community of 1.7 million (who attend at least once a month), the majority of whom – 65% – is female.

Meanwhile, WATCH, the women’s advocacy group within the Church of England has taken out an advertisement opposing the position of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on the issue of female bishops. It reads in part:

The text of the Archbishops’ amendment on women bishops appears innocuously brief and simple. However, their proposed small alterations to the draft legislation hide some changes for the Church that WATCH sees as highly contentious.

In removing the reference to ‘delegation’ we are returned to the idea of ‘transfer’ of jurisdiction: a female bishop will have some of her job automatically removed as soon as she is appointed. This was rejected (as TEA) by the House of Bishops in 2006, and found unworkable in practice after detailed examination by the Revision Committee.

When it comes to having ‘coordinate jurisdiction’, the Archbishops appear to be seeking to create, in effect, two Diocesan bishops in each Diocese: one to minister to those who accept ordained women, and one to minister to those who don’t. This is a step further even than flying bishops. Such an innovation must not be accepted without serious examination of the consequences.

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