You will probably have heard on the news this week that the governing body of the Church of England – the General Synod – has rejected the legislation to enable women to be bishops.
While the church’s bishops and priests voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops, the vote was lost when put to representatives of the laity (the non-ordained members of synod). It did not achieve the two-thirds majority required, although it only lost by six votes. This was a shock and surprise as, two years ago, Synod had already agreed that women could become bishops. This week’s legislation was really about how it would be implemented. The failure to pass it has halted the whole process.
There are a disproportionate number of lay representatives in General Synod who are from very conservative and fundamentalist churches and do not accurately reflect the tolerance and diversity cherished by most of us in the Church of England.
The “no” vote casts the Church of England in a very bad light. It makes us appear exclusive, anti-women and completely out of touch with the 21st century.
How then should we respond?
Firstly, be aware that many of us feel dismayed and angry by this result. It does not reflect our views or our understanding of what God wants for the church. Please pray that the wounds and hurt which many people are feeling – particularly women priests - will know God’s healing touch. And we also pray for the small minority who are so fearful of change, that they fight to stand in the way of our collective journey towards wholeness.
Secondly, let us not forget that we are a wounded people. We were wounded before and we are wounded now. This is the gospel, that in spite of our failings and shortcomings we are loved and cherished by God. That in Christ Jesus, as St Paul says, there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. Now there may not be many slaves or Greeks in Lambeth these days, but we understand Paul to mean that the church should embrace and represent humanity in all its diversity, regardless of your gender, your colour of skin, your physical or mental abilities, or your sexual orientation.
Each of us is invited to be fully a part of God’s family, and we respond with hope, confident that the grief of Holy Saturday will give way to the resurrection joy of Easter morning. We will continue to campaign for women bishops – and there will be another attempt at legislation in due course. We don’t yet know when.
In the meantime, let us work towards our congregation being the role-model for a generous, diverse and inclusive people of God, not merely learning to live with our differences but celebrating and cherishing them.
Revd Angus Aagaard, Team Rector, North Lambeth Parish
Revd Rosemary Fletcher, Methodist Superintendent Minister, Lambeth Mission St Mary
Revd Alison Kennedy, Team Vicar, St Peter’s Vauxhall
Revd Fraser Dyer, Priest-in-Charge, St Anne and All Saints South Lambeth
Revd Olufunke Ogbede, Honorary Curate, St Anne and All Saints South Lambeth
Revd Robert Stanier, Youth Minister, North Lambeth Parish & South Lambeth, St Anne and All Saints
Revd David Longe, Assistant Curate, St Anselm’s Kennington
Deacon Marilyn Slowe, Lambeth Mission St Mary
Revd Louise Seear, Assistant Curate, St Peter’s Vauxhall
Elizabeth Whyte, Pastoral Assistant, North Lambeth Parish