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View from the Church of England (to American Anglican Council)

By The Revd Canon Chris Sugden for AAC

During this last week the debate over the future of the women bishops legislation has continued. It appears that those who were most "hurt" by the decision are seeking extra-synodical means of effecting their wishes. Bristol Diocesan Synod passed a vote of no-confidence in General Synod. Processes have been started to call an emergency meeting of the House of Laity to debate a vote of no-confidence in their chairman, Philip Giddings, because he spoke against the legislation. Those calling for the debate "believe that, if Dr Giddings is forced out, the move could help Church leaders get around the rules and bring back the legislation before a new Synod is elected in three years' time."

Peter Ould has written of the "hypocrisy" of this move, since the chair of the House of Clergy, Christine Hardman, spoke against the measure, not because that represented the majority view (as Philip Giddings was "supposed" to do) but on principle, as Philip had done.

A general synod member who reports to a deanery synod has been released from so doing because of agreement with the decision of the General Synod: "following the vote in General Synod and the deep feeling and much hurt that has caused, we feel we must end our relationship with you." There are also calls for the whole process of electing the House of laity to be reviewed.

Having used synodical processes to block any meaningful "concessions" in the past, if only by a few votes in the house of clergy, the call of those frustrated by the decision of the synod is now for every avenue to be explored to "move this forward with great urgency". For some that avenue would be for Parliament to pass legislation. This has happened before – the Archbishops Council asked Parliament to write the legislation for the Church of England in respect of Civil Partnerships.

The House of Bishops meets on December 10 and 11 to consider the way forward. It appears quite a bit of pressure is being generated on them. It has been reported that "senior women" have requested to attend to assist.

A signature campaign has also been started in one diocese to "urge the House of Bishops to bring forward the simplest possible form of legislation because we recognise and affirm the vital importance of women's ministry in the Church."

WATCH has run out of patience and they are urging a single clause measure with no provisions. The chair of WATCH, who knows the concerns of Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals from first hand conversations, has said, "We have spent enough time in exploring how to accommodate the views of those who do not want women as bishops. Generosity is laudable but without limits it becomes a kind of profligacy. We are wasting the Church's precious resources, both its money and its people if we seek to continue the debate about provision in law. The House of Bishops must act decisively now to legislate for women bishops in the simplest possible way."

There are issues of the ongoing governance of the Church of England that are being addressed. Constitutions are drawn up precisely for when there is significant disagreement. To start redrawing or avoiding the constitution at the stage of significant disagreement is to opt for disorder and the rule of the most powerful.

Thankfully, the Archbishops' Council and the Archbishop of York have issued quite helpful statements that seek to abate panic. In addition, 12 Lay members who are in favour of women bishops wrote to the Times to explain their vote against the legislation.

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