|Courtesy of ENS|
Before I say anything, a point of clarification - I am in favour of women being consecrated as bishops. Being both male and Anglo catholic are fearful things to be at the moment.
Very bright and insightful people have already written many good and worthy words in the light of the failure of the General Synod to pass the draft legislation that would have paved the way for the consecration of women as bishops. It passed through in the Houses of clergy and bishops, but fell in the House of laity. It is also fair to say that some foolish and baseless words have also been written too that would suggest that somehow God has failed and that the Church of England is now utterly dead. The writers of those words do not know God, I would suggest.
I am one who feels sadness that this process didn't conclude as it ought. However, it didn't happen as many might have hoped (me included), and we are now left with some choices. Do we crumble as a church? Do we become unbalanced in the understandable reaction of regarding all women in ministry as living martyrs? Yesterday ended and today's day broke. My church is still standing stone on stone and the living work of God's mission seems, here at least, to have survived the night.
This all feels to me like a vast-scale Bishop's Advisory Panel (selection conference) where laity are either approved or otherwise for training for ordained ministry. Some of the words I have heard are the words I have heard from those who have either 'passed' or 'failed' that process. There is a real sense, which frustrates me in either case, that where the process is for one's cause that it is of God and blessed by the Spirit. When it fails to back my cause, it is flawed and weak and characteristic of human ineptitude. In the case of BAPs, whole churches full of people might believe a candidate to be called for ordained ministry only to be told by three good folk that they are not. That is earth-shatteringly bad for them as this is for women in ministry today - but much the same, it seems to me. Do we therefore focus on the the process, or do we re-focus on what God may just have said to us through its outworking?
What saddened me yesterday almost as much as the result was the stream of consciousness, often through Twitter, that poured forth into the public domain. I read some appalling things among the other heartfelt pleas. High in rhetoric and pathos, low on prayer and theology - some things were said that could have turned my resolute heart against the cause. Given that votes were in the hands of brothers and sister Christians, all present in the light of their own consciences, words like "stench" being applied to a possible No, or that if a room full of humans out of many millions make a flawed choice, that an entire church would be seen to be dying. I read more that lacked grace yesterday than I did in a long time. And that before the result.
This debate in recent years had become tainted by those (some) who would fight for a cause at all costs, few-holds barred. Compromise was non-negotiable, seeking to create an inverse of the present. The present is unacceptable to many, and rightly so, but could we in all conscience create its equal and opposite sibling? These and many questions will now have to be re-imagined, and perhaps even more radically than before.
For now, we are left with a strange sense of numb, in the light of Sunday's gospel which, perhaps even cruelly, refers to such agony being but 'the birth pangs' (a uniquely female experience). I think it is fair to say that a 'No' was a considerable shock to all sides, which now leaves questions. In the middle of those questions is God, however. Why did the verdict go this way? What would God have the church do before this can pass through? Are there lessons and what are they? We are, I am quite sure, being asked by God to consider embracing diversity and difference, but for all those years of campaign and energy to not have been utterly wasted, the church (and me too as part of it) have now to consider what today must bring now - for it is the tomorrow that none of us expected.
And I concede that all of this is very easy for me to say (but take heart, women will be bishops long before I will be) ...