Who has pottered by this way, then?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Looking to St. Hild for Guidance on Women Bishops?

WATCH has asked for feedback about what its supporters think it ought to do next. Is it better to accept the current legislation which its supporters find not only imperfect, but which many believe is storing up bigger problems for the future? Or perhaps would it be better to stop such an obvious schism-in-waiting to be passed now, even at the cost of putting female bishops back many more years, for the sake of taking the longer view? Janet Henderson sums up the options facing the church very succinctly in her blog. 

With this is mind, and having read Lay Anglicana's thoughts on this, I started to think about where to look for a model of a woman grappling with schism, hurt and dissent in the Church, and my thoughts and research took me in the direction of St. Hild, abbess of the double monastery at Whitby. Hild hosted a hugely significant synod which determined the future of the Church in these islands. 

Now.... the weird thing is.... the following was not what I intended to write when I started writing. My heart, my every instinct and all my thinking on this in the last couple of weeks really was leading me to believe that it would be better to avoid the pig's ear on offer outright and not have female bishops for the foreseeable future than to institutionally split the episcopacy and hard-wire a schism which should have been lanced in 1993. The best outcome would be a swift cut somewhere in the future where women bishops were accepted by the church, full-stop with no faffy opt-outs, then on with the actual business of taking the Gospel into our communities and beyond. That was my gut-feeling on this. This legislation seems weak and bound to doom the CofE to worse heartache down the line, no matter how brilliant any actual women bishops may transpire to be. However... I find myself now strangely challenged by my own words which leads me to suspect all sorts of Holy Spirit type of things are involved. See what you reckon...

An edited version of my reply on the Lay Anglicana site:
St. Hild was Abbess of an amazing centre of ministry, the double monastery at
Whitby. It was not the same building as this one: hers was destroyed by Vikings.

I can’t help thinking that an appropriate female role model to look to here might be St. Hild. She oversaw a deep division in the church between the Celtic and Roman traditions. The divisions seemed similarly insurmountable at the time, I am sure. The main issues were the date of Easter and the style of monastic haircut (tonsure). To us this sounds a daft reason for schism, just as surely as future generations will view our current palaver with head-scratching bewilderment.

What can we learn from Hild? 
Well, in her case, she argued on the side of Celtic traditions and lost. Her kinsman St. Wilfrid successfully argued that the Roman traditions came from St. Peter whilst the Celtic traditions came via St. Columba who was said to have followed the tradition of St. John the Evangelist. Wilfrid successfully debunked the claim that St. John calculated the date of easter the Celtic way and, in all other matters under discussion, by referring to St. Peter (as holder of the keys of heaven) as the authority followed by Rome, successfully argued that this could trump all other traditions which could only be traced as far as Columba.
Whereas her bishop, Colman, resigned the See of Lindisfarne and left for Iona, Hild accepted defeat graciously and accepted the Roman protocols for her double monastery.

What happened next is interesting. How did accepting a decision she disagreed with affect her ministry?
Hild remained Abbess of Whitby. She used the power she had achieved well. The monastery became the foremost centre of learning in the Christian world of its time. She continued to oppose Wilfrid very effectively, in later life helping ensure that his diocese was split up (and his political power therefore curtailed) by sending an ambassador to the Pope in support of the Archbishop’s decision to carve it up. She advised the great and the good. She nurtured the talents of Caedmon, the first recognised English poet who adapted folk-songs and traditional tales for evangelistic use. Whitby Abbey became a centre of evangelism, using Caedmon’s words and songs to spread the Gospel throughout the north and sending out many very significant bishops.

Hild accepted what seemed to her an imperfect reality. She had strongly supported the Celtic traditions yet went along with an outcome she did not want, but used the power which came with adopting the new status quo to achieve a lot. Many great things which furthered the Kingdom of God in this land may not have happened were it not for her wise, and clearly ordained, leadership.

A cautionary note: 
Her monastery was destroyed by vikings 187 years after her death.

Depends which longer view you choose to take, perhaps?

P.S. Interestingly... 
When I look at this issue with my evangelical head on and have Jesus as revealed in the Bible as my frame of reference (as in my previous blog post), I seem to come to a pretty firm conviction that women bishops are not only the right way forward but that it is so blindingly obvious that to fart around with amendments seems obscenely wrong.
Then when I take something approaching an Anglo-Catholic "lives of the saints" approach in this post, I come up with this more accommodating approach which does seem to lack the ire, bitterness and heat of much of the current debate expressed on both sides. Interesting that it is my internal challenge from a tradition not of my own which brings a sense of peace transcending imperfect realities. This is no reflection on evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics you understand, merely a reflection of the inner discussion I am having. I do not believe I am alone in being pulled in several directions at once in this matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment