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Reactions: Church of England’s House of Laity drops the ball

Reactions: Church of England’s House of Laity drops the ball

UPDATED: see below

The Church of England’s General Synod defeated legislation that would have allowed women to become bishops. We will be rounding up reaction in this item.

Here’s what the Rev. Megan Castellan had to say:

I’ve been assuming that the humanist principle of equality is the way to argue this. Clearly, it hasn’t gotten us the result of gender equality in the church. So behold: let us try a new thing.

Please– Please show me the place in the gospel where Jesus and the disciples are staying with Mary and Martha, and Jesus sends Mary away, because he only wants men to learn from him, and this woman is being really inappropriate with all the sitting and listening and disciple-like behavior. Guide me towards the spot where Jesus firmly declines the money from the women who supported him and his ministry, because that’s man’s work! Kindly point to the verse where Jesus, from the cross, tells the women waiting and suffering with him, to hit the road, because, after all, he never had any female disciples and he was worried about their emotional nature. Point to the place in each of the four gospels where Mary Magdalene is told by the angel that Christ is risen, and to go tell the disciples, but hey, you better take a man with you, because they may not receive your testimony, and we can’t make them uncomfortable.

Most of all, kindly point me to the caveat or asterisk in my baptism that dares place a limit on what wonderful, mysterious, exciting dream God has for me.

The vote lost in the lay order, which failed to muster the 2/3 majority need to pass the legislation. In “Sackcloth and Ashes from the Laity: What next?” : Laura Sykes of Lay Anglicana writes:

[H]owever we comfort ourselves, the House of Laity in the Church of England has today committed a blunder which will cost the Church dear. It will cost the new Archbishop of Canterbury, threatening to turn him into an Ancient Mariner stalked by an albatross even before the enthronement. It will cost the Bishops who, at 44 votes in favour, 3 against and 2 abstentions, mirrored the vote in their dioceses. It will cost the House of Clergy who, though less overwhelmingly, supported the motion by 148 in favour, 45 against and with no abstentions. And it will cost the House of Laity itself, who by voting 132 in favour, 74 against and with no abstentions, bring into question the degree to which they are representative of their dioceses. If you are a lay person in the Church of England, this is what has just been done in your name. Please take a moment to consider whether there is anything more you could or should have done to prevent this outcome. And then let us bury our heads in Aslan’s mane, like Lucy, and seek comfort there.

The Micawber Perspective

But having wept, it is time to reflect that it could (just) have been very much worse. You remember Micawber on the subject of annual income –

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Yes, we are in misery. But there is only a shilling in it (5p in new money!). If 6 lay members had voted the other way (or abstained) the motion would have passed. This is of course maddening, but it is also ground for hope. We only have to tweak a few votes to change this.

The Rev. David Hansen, a Lutheran pastor and king of social media, writes:

This vote may bring the Church of England closer in relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, but it widens the divide between the CofE and Protestant churches. Even the Episcopal Church has a female Presiding Bishop. So my first question is: What will this vote do to the relationships between the Church of England and Protestant churches?


Prior to the vote, the Synod had a time of prayer for discernment. In fact, like all church legislative gatherings, the whole gathering has been immersed in prayers for guidance. We talk of how the Holy Spirit has guided the church through the centuries, and affirm that God’s Spirit will not abandon the church. Which brings me to my last question: What does it mean (theologically speaking) to affirm the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the church, when I vehemently disagree with the decisions of the church?

The Rev. Canon Lucy Winkett, who almost certainly would have been, and may yet be, in the first wave of female bishops, has called in the vote a disaster in a column for The Guardian. She writes:

The fact that we look foolish in the eyes of society is for some in the church an embarrassment and for others a badge of honour. Foolishness for Christ was something St Paul encouraged, and so some argue that unpopularity is an indication of authentic spirituality, insisting that minorities should hold guiding principles for the whole, and that what seems wise now must be seen in the context of thousands of years, if not eternity.

For me, though, the issue is clear: from the very beginning of the church’s existence, women should have been together with men in every area, every layer, every activity of the church’s life. However, in the first century AD the church followed wider society, conforming to a societal structure that gave men the power.

It has been a mistake that women and men haven’t shared these authority roles from the beginning – not one that has suffocated the church or disabled it beyond recognition, but a mistake nonetheless. It is a matter of shame that millions of women have lived and died as practising Christians while being told from the pulpit that they, as the inheritors of Eve, were responsible for all the sin in the world. It is a matter of shame that in this country women were bridled at the time of the Reformation for daring to speak publicly about their faith. It is unutterably sad that women have lived and died nursing an unfulfilled vocation to serve as priests.

Bishop Paul Butler of Southwell and Nottingham writes:

The Church of England really does want women as bishops, that is clear. But sadly enough think we have not found the right route to have stalled the way.

One thing appears clear to me; we have to find a different way of doing the business as and when we return to it – which we will. Somehow we have to find ways in which all really do think and feel that they have been listened to fully.

So deep sadness; some anger and a commitment to work towards finding a way that will ensure thorough support in all 3 houses in the coming years. Meanwhile I will also keep working to see women and men develop as leaders together in my diocese.

On his blog, Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield wrote:

I think there will be lots of frustration and sadness expressed over the coming weeks and months and lots of questions to God and to the Church. I would imagine that in time that this will crystallise into a determination across the Church to see this business through sooner rather than later, to keep on listening to those who see things differently, to go on loving and forgiving and getting on with the business of the kingdom and to find new ways forward. I would imagine that there will be a more robust theological critique of the traditional catholic and the conservative evangelical positions on this issue. I don’t think for a moment that we will be distracted from our God-given priorities of serving the common good, making disciples and re-imagining ministry for mission.

Here is the influential Andrew Brown of The Guardian:

I think I have just watched the Church of England commit suicide. It was a very long and very boring process. But at the end of nine hours’ rehearsal of stale arguments made in bad faith the General Synod took a decisive turn into fantasy, or stumbled over its own rules, and failed, by a very small margin, to gain the complicated majorities required to make women bishops.

There is a danger that the church will become a national embarrassment, said Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford, within minutes of the catastrophe. This was the optimist’s view. He didn’t, on reflection, think that it had committed suicide – I asked him – but it’s a historic moment, of sorts, when a bishop has to deny it.


Traditionalists said things like: “I have always said that I would vote for women bishops if it met the theological objections of the traditionalists.” This sounds as if it makes sense – until you remember that the theological objection of the traditionalists is that there shouldn’t, or can’t be women bishops at all. Yet they spoke with apparent sincerity.

After six hours of these speeches someone on the platform texted a friend in the tea room that they had lost the will to live. It wasn’t just the tedium. What was wrong was worse than the tedium of 20-year-old bureaucratic wrangles. It was a kind of systematic dishonesty and refusal to admit reality.


From Bishop Alan Wilson



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Gary Paul Gilbert

Thank you, Ann! I don’t see how they were proposing to open the episcopate to women while allowing congregations to seek oversight by men, thus writing gender discrimination into church law. Under the leadership of Rowan Williams, the C of E again suffered a major loss.

It will be up to Justin Welby to work to get more support next time. Hopefully, they will come up with a better proposal than one which still treats women as second-class members of the Church of England.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Ann Fontaine

Yes Chris. Some liberals felt this way.. The roll call vote will be out in a few days and then we will know who voted how.

Chris H.

I’m not sure it’s all the traditionalists that caused this to fail. I thought this was the result that traditionalists, obviously, AND some liberals wanted–the liberals because the current form gave too much protection for traditionalists. Haven’t there been some liberals advocating against this? Thinking Anglicans had links to some who were willing to lose this time so that next time they’d get what they wanted-no provisions for conservatives.

Chris Harwood

Rod Gillis

@ Isaac Bradshaw, thanks for the i.d., I thought I recognized that superstructure profile, Hindenburg was a Battle Cruiser class dreadnought. What a great metaphor! Tks.

Isaac Bradshaw

The ship in the picture is, interestingly, the SMS Hindenburg, a German battleship scuttled at Scapa Floe in 1919. A self-inflicted sinking.

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