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The Rt Revd Graham James (Image: Diocese of Norwich / Andrew Ridoutt)
Women bishops - a letter from the Bishop of Norwich
Posted on Thursday 22 November 2012
Following Tuesday’s vote at General Synod on the legislation to consecrate women as bishops, the Bishop of Norwich has written to clergy, Readers, churchwardens and PCC Secretaries.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The workings of the Church of England are often mysterious to those who belong to it, let alone wider society. This seems especially true after Tuesday’s vote in the General Synod on the legislation to consecrate women as bishops. The overall vote was more than 72% in favour, and yet the headlines tell us that the legislation was defeated. Our system requires at least two thirds of those voting overall to be in favour and two thirds in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity. It failed to reach the two thirds majority in the House of Laity by just six votes.
Hardly anyone has considered the result good news for the Church of England. Clearly the legislation was not felt adequate by opponents of women bishops, though many of those who spoke against it pledged their cooperation with any moves towards the safe passage of a more suitable Measure. But it will not be at all easy to identify a solution which will satisfy all sides, given the years that we have already put into discussions, debates and negotiations leading to Tuesday’s vote. But with God all things are possible. Through Jesus Christ and his cross what appears tragic is transformed by him into a triumph of love.
So this isn’t the time to stop listening to each other or honouring each other within our Church. It is a time to go even deeper in prayer and to offer our disappointment to God as we seek a better and more united future.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury said to the General Synod on Wednesday morning, we do have some explaining to do. First of all, we need to explain ourselves to wider society. The tragedy of Tuesday’s vote is that it is easily interpreted as the Church of England rejecting the ministry of women as priests if the General Synod is unwilling to sanction that they become bishops too. We must remind people not just of the overwhelming majority in favour but of the strong and widespread appreciation of our ordained women clergy. There is a huge amount to celebrate in all that has happened in the Church of England over the past twenty years since we agreed to ordain women as priests. I hope we will take every opportunity to encourage those who may feel downhearted and dispirited by Tuesday’s vote.
Secondly, there will be many who will find themselves puzzled about the disparity between the voting in our Diocesan Synods and the General Synod. We must not be tempted into thinking there is anything dishonourable in setting the bar so high before we proceed with a very significant change in our Church. It is one of the great virtues of the Church of England that we want to take as many people with us as possible whenever such changes are made. In a society in which minorities are not always honoured, despite the common rhetoric about them, our part of the Christian Church takes its responsibility in creating unity and diversity very seriously indeed.
The House of Bishops met early on the morning after the vote and we shall be meeting again in less than three weeks for two days. Please pray for your bishops as they seek to lead our beloved Church through the consequences of this vote, and especially for Bishop Justin as he prepares to begin his ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury in the New Year.
Meanwhile, the work of mission and ministry in our parishes, schools, organisations and communities goes on. God continues to call us to be bearers of the good news of his love in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit we will continue the mission which he has entrusted to us.
Due to the retirement of our successful Headteacher we are offering an exciting opportunity to lead our federated schools, to build on the excellent work that has already been achieved and further expand the federation to include other schools in the future.