It was great to see such an overwhelming vote in favour of women bishops yesterday by the General Synod yesterday.
Now I’m not a member of General Synod and I have no inside information and so I may be talking hot air about what happened. There are two things that I thought was interesting about the vote and the outcome.
Firstly, Synod included opponents in the drafting of the bill. Interestingly it’s been reported that this is normally not the case. Maybe this is Justin’s role as a conciliator and peacemaker but there appears to have been greater effort at valuing people with different views. The lay leader of Forward in Faith (the traditional Anglo Catholic group) is reported:
she says that it’s not the mechanics of the proposal which have made the difference, but rather the spirit of grace and generosity with which they’ve been presented
It’s important for all of us in a church where so many have different views to ensure that we listen and to show grace and generosity. It’s so easy in places like synods (or even PCC’s!) to fight as though we have to win and that leaves so much damage. I’m so pleased that grace and generosity won out yesterday. An example for us at Springfield is the way that we have worked hard to share in the mission of Jesus with other churches in the area. So, we work with Mother Angela to share in the work of the Gospel in Roundshaw. Even though we differ on many ways of displaying the faith we are united that we long to see people become followers of Jesus – whether at St Michael’s/ St Paul’s or at Springfield.
Secondly, there is the genuine shock by the vast majority of the Church of England. I know that a number of members of Springfield Church approached me after the vote last year asking how they could be involved in Deanery Synod to ensure that they had a vote in legislation and in future general Synod votes. I suspect that the avalanche of anger and frustration has made opponents of the legislation more careful. Indeed the Guardian has reported exactly that. They are concerned that at the next General Synod elections that they will lose votes and seats.
This all adds up to a potential sea change for the Church. The real tragedy of the debate over recent years is that the church has been seen as obsessed with its own internal in-fighting rather than with sharing the Good News of Jesus. We need to be continuing to reach out to one another in grace and generosity to encourage one another and to build one another up.
We still have some way to go. I was at a Diocesan Synod meeting recently where a lay member made an allegation against the Bishop which was a quite personal attack. The Bishop responded pointing out it was untrue and thankfully the member withdrew his allegation. However, the fact that people think that it is ok to make these charges publicly without conversation shows a real issue.
I hope that all sides in General Synod and the wider church recognise this and stop thinking that we are in a “them and us” winner takes all type of church. That grace and generosity should be the hallmark of the church. We are at a crossroads in this country. If we continue to be riven by division and the lack of grace then what possible good news are we offering?
Oh, and pray for the rest of the process. Next year there will be a final vote where there will be a need for a 2/3 majority in each of the 3 houses. I’m hopeful that this can be reached – but even more I pray that it will be done well.