Brothers and Sisters,
The General Synod of the Church of England that has just finished in York attempted to change the culture by which the Church of England tries to square the circle of welcoming women into the episcopate on exactly the same terms as men while at the same time making provision for those who cannot accept their ministry on theological grounds.
Last November, inadequate legislation to achieve this predictably failed. The clear signs that it would not achieve the necessary special majorities were ignored.
Then came a new Archbishop who immediately introduced facilitated conversations into the Synodical process. First, a working party was convened who engaged in round table talks with representatives of all the major parties. The working party produced a report for the House of Bishops.
This report set out a vision as something "around which all those who aspire to keep the Church of England as a broad church might gather." These are that:
1.Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
2.Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must then be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
3. Since it will continue to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
4. Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England will remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.
The tenor of this report opened up possibilities. In his Presidential Address to Synod Archbishop Justin Welby said the following:
"Trust is rebuilt and reconciliation happens when whatever we say, we do. For example, if, while doing what we believe is right for the full inclusion of women in the life of the church, we say that all are welcome whatever their views on that, all must be welcome in deed as well as in word. If we don't mean it, please let us not say it. On the one hand there are horrendous accounts from women priests whose very humanity has sometimes seemed to be challenged. On the other side I recently heard a well-attested account of a meeting between a Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) and a candidate, who was told that if the DDO had known of the candidate's views against the ordination of women earlier in the process he would never have been allowed to get as far as he did.
"Both attitudes contradict the stated policy of the Church of England, of what we say, and are completely unacceptable. If the General Synod, if we decide, that we are not to be hospitable to some diversity of views, we need to say so bluntly and not mislead. If we say we will ordain women as priests and Bishops we must do so in exactly the same way as we ordain men. If we say that all are welcome even when they disagree, they must be welcome in spirit, in deed, as well as in word."
Synod spent Saturday morning and afternoon in groups of 20 in facilitated conversations. Initial skepticism about their value largely disappeared in the light of experience. Many found stereotypes of those they disagreed with disappeared.
There was anxiety that synod would return to its old ways in the formal debate on Monday morning. However a proposal was agreed with major constituencies in synod and backed strongly and publicly by Archbishop Welby that the stage of a small Steering Committee producing draft legislation would be changed by increasing the Committee from eight to fifteen to include representatives of all major constituencies who would then be charged to produce an agreed draft that would be presented to the whole synod bypassing at least one synodal process.
The resemblance to the Northern Ireland peace process is no mistake since the Director of Reconciliation played a major role in developing the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement.
This meant that the votes on the options before Synod became steers for the Steering Committee to work with rather than binding decisions of the Synod.
General Synod extended its debate-time to complete the discussion of the way forward in the matter of the consecration of women in the episcopate.
It voted by 319 votes for to 84 against with 22 abstentions to
(a) "reaffirm its commitment to admitting women to the episcopate as a matter of urgency;
(b) instruct the Appointments Committee to appoint this month a Steering Committee to be in charge of the draft legislation required to that end;
(c) instruct the Business Committee to arrange for the First Consideration stage for that draft legislation to be taken at the November 2013 group of sessions, so that the subsequent stages can follow the timetable set out in paragraph 141 of the annex to GS 1886; and
(d) instruct the Steering Committee to prepare the draft legislation on the basis described in paragraphs 79-88 of the annex to GS 1886 as 'option one' (see below) with the addition of mandatory grievance procedure for parishes in which diocesan bishops are required to participate and invite the House of Bishops to bring to the Synod for consideration at the February 2014 group of sessions a draft Act of Synod or draft declaration to be made by the House to accompany the draft legislation; and
(e) urge that the process of facilitated conversations continue to be used at significant points in the formulation and consideration of the draft legislation.
[Option one: A measure and amending canon that made it lawful for women to become bishops; and
The repeal of the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under the 1993 Measure, plus the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.]
While option one was in the motion passed at Synod, a number of amendments sought to modify the nature of the legislation that would be considered. These secured enough support to be taken seriously in the consideration of the new legislation – since final legislation will have to secure a super-majority- but not enough to command a majority in the votes today.
The result is that space has now been created for those who are concerned that those with traditional understandings of church order in ministry flourish in the church can engage in the process of framing the legislation. The final draft presented to synod will depend on the agreement of all parties.
Three senior incumbents from anglo-catholic, evangelical and central traditions, who are all in favour of secure provision for those with theological difficulties with women in the episcopate, spoke of the outcome as encouraging, hopeful and a breakthrough.
Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church
Bishop Angaelos spoke to the General Synod this morning. This report is taken from listening to the presentation and should be checked against any public release.
President Mursi was due to be in England for these two days which posed a dilemma for me as to whether to meet the President or not.
After the Pharoahs, Egypt has been Christian. It has a rich heritage of protection and confession of faith. It also has a heritage of martyrdom and physics tells us that the greatest energy is granted under the greatest pressure.
The whole nation is blessed because of the presence of the Lord and the holy family.
Since the election of President Mursi the stock market is at a 5 year low. There is 33% unemployment, there have been 5500 strikes/protests, and the debt is 85% of GDP. Crime figures are up. Armed robberies have rocketed, and car thefts have tripled. There have been more attacks on Christian churches than in the last 20 years.
What has happened is not best described as a military coup. The people issued a vote of no confidence in the elected government. There have been attacks on all religious communities. Sufi Shrines have been attacked and Shiites have been killed in the streets.
Egypt has been a polarised community and one section has taken over all.
When we talk about sovereign states they must be left to govern themselves rather than have democracy imported.
The media also does not help. For example help being given in a hospital in the centre of Cairo should not have been as a makeshift field hospital. Cairo is not a battle zone.
A kingdom divided cannot stand but will fall. I call for pragmatic leadership to build a cohesive state and national reconciliation. We have received reconciliation in Christ and are called to a ministry of reconciliation.
The presence of Christ and Christians in the Middle East is a power in itself.
We have just called for three days of reconciling prayer that breaks down all these barriers. Who would have thought an Islamist leadership would fall apart in a year and bring the whole country together again? The way ahead is to work together and pray together.
We must get away from a model that says religion drives people apart. On the contrary religion brings people together.
A passage that gives me strength comes from 2 Corinthians 4 7-10: always carrying about in our body the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a cross we carry that brings glory to God.
Pray for strength. It has been shown people that division will never take Egypt anywhere. Reconciliation is needed from the heart.
In this synod there has been talk of reconciliation – this is a grace called for in Egypt as well.
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