24th November 2012
Some reflections following the General Synod Vote
I believe that this week was one of the Church of England’s darkest.
Therefore it is important that I write to you – especially after I had spoken so unequivocally last Sunday in support of women in the episcopacy. But I want to help us all understand what the church has decided this week in not agreeing to pass legislation to allow women to become Bishops.
Let me first re-iterate: The issue is not whether we will have women bishops – we will. The issue is how and when. The whole church has already voted overwhelmingly for this. We simply want to take as many people with us as possible. But the current plans have not found enough favour among the laity of the General Synod.
I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing a mixture of emotions. I am angry, ashamed and bewildered. I am angry at the injustice of this. I am ashamed that the church will now look like a laughing stock with our credibility shot to pieces. I am bewildered about where we go from here.
This decision made this week shows that we have slipped our contextual moorings. We have been “wilfully blind”, as Archbishop Rowan said, to the context in which we find ourselves. We are a national embarrassment. I am ashamed of General Synod.
As a church we have some serious questions to ask ourselves. What I think and hope that this week did do, was to sound the death knell on some of the ways in which we operate as a national church. I hope that General Synod as a structure is seriously wounded. By that I mean that this process has revealed a dysfunctional system whereby a decision made by General Synod was unrepresentative of the mind and majority of the church. It is time our systems and structures are changed and I hope and pray that they will be. The will of the church has been held to ransom by a small minority. This is an injustice.
I am also embarrassed for my women colleagues in the parish here, and to all who have come before, and to all women in ministry who are also asking what sort of institution are we part of? We need to affirm women in the gifts and richness they bring to the church.
The church has always sought to reform itself – to proclaim the gospel afresh in every generation – and to adapt to the context, culture and society it finds itself in. This is not about colluding with everything that goes in society, but of clothing the gospel in the context in which we are placed. It will take some long time for the church to retrieve any moral ground or credibility to speak on anything relating to matters of equality and justice.
Whilst our belief in the church might have been shaken, our belief in God must remain strong. God is greater than this. God is bigger than the church and the need for God in our lives and in our communities and in the world remains greater than ever. This weekend in the Abbey, 23 people will be confirmed. They are the future hope. They want to place their trust and affirm their faith in God as creator, in Jesus as their Saviour and in the Holy Spirit whose breath, fire and renewal we need more than ever.
This is not to deny those who might be relieved that this decision has not gone through. We still need to find concessions for conscientious objectors. I only hope that when the decision does come, we will not have compromised what it means to be one in the Lord Jesus, and one, full humanity in Him.
It may be that some of you would like to talk more about this and process what has happened. It may be that you have lots of questions still. I would be more than happy to talk with you about this and help us all to move on as a church locally with integrity and renewed purpose.
For now, we must pray for mercy on God’s church, and for the grace, wisdom and a deftness of touch to chart a better course as the church so that we can get on with the core task of being and building the church in every local community.
With all good wishes in Christ
Revd Tim Sledge
Vicar of Romsey