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Thursday, June 7, 2012

What about unity? Lindsay Southern on Women Bishops legislation

In Sheep's first guest blog, Anglican curate and WATCH member Lindsay Southern challenges the logic behind amendments to the Women Bishops legislation.

'Like all walls, legislation is the lowest
common denominator of relationship.'

What about unity? 

The amendment to clause 5 will not promote unity - it fosters a church within a church where we define ourselves by the theologies on which we disagree, rather than the ones we hold in common, or our shared identity as children of God and heirs of Christ. At best it will allow us to live apart. 
I am old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, I have lived in Cyprus and walked the green mile and in Northern Ireland where communities lived apart. Like all walls, legislation is the lowest common denominator of relationship, further provision will create additional barriers to working together, to learning to respect difference, to celebrating all that we do hold in common. I suspect it will lead to segregation and ghettoisation within the Church of England.

Provision mutated

When provision was first proposed this was not what was intended. In 1993 during Synod debates about the Act of Synod the then Bishop of Birmingham Mark Santer said "we must not build walls or dig ditches that people find they cannot cross".

John Hapgood, then Archbishop of York, also said that "what we seek to provide are opportunities and safeguards which we hope will be used in a pastoral rather than a legalistic way so that none of us is trapped in unnecessarily rigid divisions..." and Archbishop Carey in 1993 debates made it clear that there was no intent to set up parallel episcopal jurisdiction stating that the provision was designed to provide appropriate pastoral care "working with and through diocesan bishops" "without undermining the authority of diocesan bishops".

So the legislation we had before us was in keeping with the spirit of the Act of Synod, but the amendment will go far beyond it and create something that our predecessors wished to avoid. 

Lord Runcie saw the special provision even then as "symptoms of an illness which replaces trust and good will with the flawed logic of two integrities" It is time to move towards restoring our spiritual health, rather than perpetuating further illness.

I am not sure they would recognise what 'provision' has mutated into now.

Clause 5 and unity

As an assistant curate in training I have benefitted from the insight, wisdom, encouragement and faith of those who do not agree with my ordained ministry. It is precisely because I value the ministry of those members of our church who disagree with this development, because I wish to remain as close a relationship as possible, because I think there needs to be space for us to demonstrate genuine generosity to one another rather than mere adherence to law, that I supported the original legislation that was approved by 42/44 dioceses. The more I look at the implications of the amendment to clause 5, the more disturbing it is and the less I want the Church of England to journey further down this path under the delusion that it will foster unity and inclusivity.

Lindsay Southern is a curate in a rural North Yorkshire parish in the diocese of Ripon and Leeds and her open letter to the Archbishops on the subject of Women Bishops in 2010 was published in the Guardian.

WATCH's press release about its members' response to the House of Bishops legislation can be downloaded from their website and the texts of the actual amendments themselves are reproduced on the Thinking Anglicans site.

Photo credits: Hadrian's Wall - Nick Morgan, General Synod - Getty Images

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