As the question is being considered by Diocesan Synods in advance of final voting in a General Synod next year, the question of women in the Episcopate in the Church of England has moved from “if” to “when.” The debate has changed. The big question now is how best minister to those priests and parishes that do not accept the ministry of ordained women (who haven’t already left for Rome) without watering down the authority of women Bishops.
Essentially, the debate boils down to whether or not the current Code of Practice is adequate (as the majority of the Synod seems to believe) or if a more structured system that “protects” those that want only the ministry male clergy (as the Archbishops propose).
In the Leader, the Church Times says:
One difficulty is that there appears to be no middle ground, an uncomfortable situation for Anglicans in which to find themselves. Or, rather, there are two middle grounds. The majority continues to argue that the existing Measure, with its attendant Code of Practice, is an adequate, even a generous compromise. The minority believes that the offer to work alongside women bishops in a guaranteed scheme, such as that proposed by the Archbishops last year, ought to be recognised as a significant concession. The problem is a straightforward lack of trust: traditionalists do not believe that the Code of Practice is a sufficient safeguard, not least because the guarantees made when the women-priests Measure went through are being swept aside less than 20 years on.
The editors point out that the practical experience of women in ministry and time will change the equation. The dissenters know this and their lobbying for guaranteed schemes are really a holding action against the inevitable.
The nature of the debate might change, however. A key element since 1987, when women were first ordained deacon, has been experience. Whatever views were held previously, an encounter with the work of ordained women has caused the evaporation of earlier Johnsonian doubts about a woman’s ability to preach, preside, and run a parish. When women begin to be appointed to episcopal posts, it will quickly become clear that the argument against their elevation was not based on lack of ability. Most traditionalists, accepting the present situation, do not wish to see the ministry of women curtailed in any way; they simply wish their own ministry to enjoy the same freedom. It is the task of diocesan synods, and then, next year, the General Synod, to decide whether the two aims can be held together in the same structure. Had it been an easy decision, we would not still be discussing it.
Pat Ashworth talked to four women bishops, three in the Episcopal Church and one in Canada:
The structures and polity of the Episcopal Church in the United States differ from the Church of England in that parishes “call” their own rectors, with the supervision and consent of the bishop, and dioceses elect their own bishops.
The Bishop of Indianapolis, the Rt Revd Catherine Waynick, explains: “This means very few women wind up in places where they will encounter substantial negativity and challenge. If a parish does not want a woman as its Rector, they will not call her. If a diocese does not want a bishop who is a woman, they will not elect her.”
Half of the seminarians in the Episcopal Church are women, but they remain in the minority as rectors of parishes, deans of cathedrals, and as bishops. Bishops who are women are still a novelty because there are so few of them, Bishop Waynick says. “When I visit or function in other dioceses, it is still a brand new thing for many people to meet, shake hands with, or hug a bishop who is a woman.”
For most, their gender is not now an issue in their own countries and contexts. In the parishes where the clergy do not want to have a woman bishop, successful strategies have included asking a male bishop to visit, Bishop Waynick says. “She is still the bishop, makes visits at other times than Sunday mornings, meets with Vestry and other members, and retains a firm hold on her authority.
“These are arrangements which the bishop makes with one of her episcopal colleagues; there is no scheme which mandates that she must invite a male bishop, or which takes that decision and authority out of her hands.”
Bishop Catharine Waynick of Indianapolis was one of those interviewed:
“Most frequently, in my ministries as priest and bishop, I have had persons tell me they weren’t sure about the whole idea of women in orders: ‘But now I’ve had the chance to meet you, it seems perfectly fine.’
“I learned long ago not to be frightened just because another person is angry about something, making it possible for me to stay engaged and in conversation as a ‘non-anxious, self-differentiated presence’.
“Roman Catholics are often very excited to have me in their midst, and Protestants who do not have bishops tend to view me as exotic . . . sort of like a talking frog. The younger members of the Church regard it as ‘way cool’ that some bishops are women, and would think it odd if there were none.
“This ministry is filled with deep unreasonable peace and holy joy — and I look forward to sharing it with more of my sisters in Christ.”
There is also an interview with a woman bishop already serving in England.