21 November 2012

Backward Britain (I'm a little angry)

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things. 
Romeo and Juliet

What a bleak morning. Cold, dark, wet. Most appropriate for my mood. I should probably wait until I am in a calmer frame of mind before I attempt to craft some sort of response to the appalling result of the Church of England's General Synod vote on women bishops. 

But, really, what is there to say that hasn't already been said, and said betimes? I've offered my views on the matter in a number of occasions, most notably here: "Girl Power". And although my tone is largely flippant, there is a great deal of seriousness there.

The most shocking points are that the motion was defeated by a narrow margin, a mere 6 votes, and the dissenting constituency was the Laity. Not Bishops (both the current and in-coming Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and Justin Welby voted in favour of women bishops), not Clergy, but the Laity. Those representing common, every day folk.

As sit here, a Churchwarden and key-holder of my local parish church, I cannot understand how anyone could possibly need to grapple with this issue! Our tiny village congregation is overwhelmingly female, and I am sure we are the rule and not the exception. Of our two Churchwardens, both of us are women; of our Readers, one is male, one female; of Clergy, one male, one female. An absence of women in roles of leadership and authority would bring our little parish to a halt. And, I have no doubt, in this day and age, that we are not unique. In our Benefice of 6 small parishes, half of the Churchwardens are women.

Of course, I am not equating being a Churchwarden with being a Bishop, but my points are that leadership, whether on a day-to-day parish level or diocesan level, is leadership; and that the face, heart and soul of the CofE -- on a day to day level -- is largely female.  

At a time when the Church is asking itself how it can reach out, be relevant and meet the needs of an ever-changing contemporary world, we take a step that appears positively Medieval! "Transform communities, make new disciplines," and etc. How can we do this when the message is quite clear: the contributions of women in the Church are valued - up to a point.

Today's news hurts, and it hurts us all. The Traditionalists and the Evangelicals - a rather odd marriage if ever there was one! - may have won, but at what cost?  

There is one Traditionalist group who call themselves Together 4ward. (Yeah, right.) How can we move forward together on this? As someone who has seriously contemplated -- and continues to contemplate quite seriously -- the possibility of pursuing a vocation within the Church of England, what am I meant to make of this result? Should it give me pause? 

Of course, one does not or should not pursue a vocation with an eye to achieving top tier status, one pursues a vocation to serve. It is a calling to humble action, not an aspirational career move. That being said, how can the Church counsel its women novitiates, mentor or encourage them with a stained glass ceiling above their heads?

And perhaps, this is what the Traditionalists and the Evangelicals wish for most. That women novitiates will be put off, give up, give over and move on. "Why bother", I saw one woman had written on a news comments page, "I'll just become a Methodist." Alas, no! Do not retreat! This needs to be a call to arms! "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"   

This is a time to demonstrate that women within the Church of England are here to stay, a force with which to reckoned, and we'll not give up the fight! 

1 comment:

Iota said...

I too am very angry about this. Luckily, I live in Scotland, so don't have to decide what to do about it (is that a cop out?), but if I did live in England, I'd definitely be checking out my local Methodist church. I take your point, that it should be a call to arms, but there are some battles that aren't worth fighting. If the C of E wants to be a church that doesn't value the contribution of women in leadership, then perhaps that's what it should be. But it might end up being a very small church indeed. I know that the vote wasn't necessarily the will of the majority of the church, but then the administrative systems need to be tightened up.

For heaven's sake, C of E. Get your act together.