Judgement and the grace of baptism

We read in our scriptures on Sunday about Christ the King coming in judgement and power and decisiveness. Next week we enter Advent with Christ the baby, coming in frailty and poverty and insecurity as we begin again the story of our Saviour and Shepherd King.

We will part with Matthew's gospel (lectionary year A) to move to Mark and lectionary B as the Anglican Communion follows its cycle through the gospels – a year for Matthew, for Mark, for Luke with John threaded throughout the three.

It makes sense to us this progression from Jesus child to King and champion, from weakness to majesty, from hay bales to holy crown. From A to B to C. We apply a linear measure to our own lives, contained as we are within time.

Perhaps what Christ comes to tell us is that he is beyond linear – he is all encompassing, he is Alpha and Omega, first and last but these things simultaneously – might and weakness, Almighty God and simple shepherd, God/man, over us, yet within us.

As adults we will know weakness and dependency amongst the triumphs and accomplishments. Perhaps what we are challenged to do is find Christ in all these ambiguities: he is there when we are weak and he is there when we are strong, sometimes guiding shepherd and sometimes mighty King. He comes to us with a wooden staff and also a royal sceptre, he is there to declare us princes and princesses but also sheep and goats. I wonder what surprises us most – to discover that ours is a divine inheritance as children of a Royal Shepherd? Or to discover that there are times when we are sheep and goats to a reigning Shepherd King?

Though secure by faith as children of God, we both yield towards and strain against his leading and are for much of our Christian lives somewhere between dependency and independence.  Christ comes to us unabashed about the risk he takes on us. He expects that in our journey to Christian maturity, there will be times when we will reject him. We will fail to see him stare at us in the face of someone strange to us, and he will watch us walk on by towards the distraction pressing us on. Thank God quite literally for the grace in him, that he continues to reach out to us, just as any parent knows that in fact when all is said and done they'll always welcome back the child who has outgrown their parenting.

That the Church of England offers baptism to those who cannot decide faith yet for themselves speaks of the almighty grace of a God who is always for us despite our nebulous grasp of him – it is always about God's work and only thereafter about our own. As promises are spoken in such liturgies, we must all acknowledge our weakness, it is only by the Spirit that they can be declared by us at all. The promises that are really made are God's, who reaches out to us and particularly to welcome the little ones into his Kingdom, to adventure with him and become a character in his salvation story.

What Jesus comes to say to us is that there is something wild in all of us – something rather goat-like in our natures that will mean he'll have to chase us. Our acceptance of his choosing we play out in water and light at baptism. That wilder aspect of our natures disappears beneath the waters and we welcome in the Christ-light of the reigning shepherd King so that by his grace we can become more sheep-like and responsive to our master, who leads us by still waters to the homeland he's prepared for us.

The scriptures tell us it is God who will relentlessly pursue us. He takes us by surprise and is wanting to prepare in us, hearts attuned to him in all those unexpected places. Two amongst my own community prayed for Barry in a pub not very far from us just last night as they hoped that this boxer/soldier would encounter the living Christ in us. Both goats and sheep are surprised to learn that they have missed Christ and encountered Christ.: this Jesus whose face in strangers is something he holds out to us. When friend and neighbour want to stop us, there the King will show his face to us and we decide in just a moment if we'll grace him with our time.

It is time that seems to constrain us and so if we could just think a little more about eternity, we might choose the better path and see it's Jesus hanging out in the least and lost and last of us.

The strangeness of this King is ultimately good for us – that his story doesn't present him in a formula that makes sense – that he's really rather ambiguous and described in paradox and parable means we can never be too sure that this faith thing depends too much on us. God defines our God for us and our life in him is obvious only by our actions and the ways we choose to love. How we live speaks out our faith. We will find that more often than not we are the only Bible other people ever read. Ghandi professed that what ultimately stopped him from submitting wholly to our Shepherd King was the witness of those Christians whose lives did not profess him. We can promise then, in those moments when we witness many promises, to be more expectant that Christ will meet us in the unexpected places so that we do not say when time does close, 'but my Lord I didn't see you, I didn't know that that was you who was calling out my name.'

Jesus meets us where we look for him and where we look for him, we'll follow, we need a shepherd in this world of ours so we learn to spot the other sheep and when we come across a goat or two, there's still time to lead them over, so they take on the family resemblance and learn a new dependence. In such dependence there is freedom to become all we were meant to be and it is with this in mind we gather as family under God.

Our challenge is to foster a community of equals where with the little ones we are all of us children on a journey, knowing times of strength and leading and those too of weakness and dependence – we have an opportunity to model the character of Christ the Shepherd King.

Thanks be to God -- who cares so much about the needs of everyone of us. Thanks be to God for the One who comes in justice and mercy and asks us to do likewise; for the One who both judges and is upon the cross judged for us; for the One who meets us in the needs of neighbours, friends and even enemies, for the One who works in us and through us in ways surprising and unexpected. Yes, thanks be to God for promises he makes to everyone of us. Amen.  

Calling the church to 'festival'

I am hoping the church I lead will participate to some degree in one of the Christian festivals. There are a number of reasons why I hope this will be so. It will grow our bonds and bring us back renewed and energised. God encounters people in new ways when they focus in a concentrated way on him and in company.

I have been reading the Grove booklet
 R 23 Christian Festivals: Reclaiming a Biblical Theology

In this booklet the author, Mark Fraser describes how attending his first Christian festival had 'produced a mind-blowing sense of being part of something ‘bigger’ and something ‘real.’ Worshipping with over five hundred .. who were excited about their faith and expecting to encounter God remains a major milestone in my Christian journey.'

It is also important though that the local church can minister appropriately to those who return from the festival environment. The author of the booklet explains how 'it is often possible to trace the inverse relationship between dissipating enthusiasm and increased frustration as it slowly dawns that, like real ale, festival does not travel very well!' 

Mark Fraser wonders whether it could be that the 'church has forgotten how to party at home!' He explores ways in which the local church might intentionally follow-up and meet people spiritually as they return to the smaller and local context from the gathered and numerically exceptional conference week/festival/holiday. 

My church experience for the last 6 months as incumbent of a now traditional church has fast become sacramental and patterned after Common Worship but with the accompaniment of the theatrical: acolytes and gospel processions, organ flourishes, candles and vestments. The Gloria is sung, as is the Agnes Dei and I preside at the Eucharist twice a Sunday. I enjoy the quietness of rising at 6:40am, preparing myself for the first offering of that sacrifice of body and soul, our right and bounden duty with the Book of Common Prayer and then I breakfast and swap language of Ghost for Spirit, say the Creed after, rather than before, the sermon, and the Gloria after confession rather than at the end of the service. Once or twice the language of the Book of Common Prayer has leaked out where the language of Common Worship should have and I realise I am absorbing these liturgies through osmosis, something I had shared as a desire at Bishops Advisory Panel. I also realise now how this is always something I have deeply desired, this wordiness, this richness, this sense of sign and symbol. 

During curacy, I was often curious about what they did down the road at the other Anglican Parish, prostrating during Lent and filling their church with holy smoke. I had watched some ordinations once in which priests lay down on the carpet in an act of reverence and I rather envied their obvious and somehow wild submission, this prophetic statement of dependence with their bodies. 

Mark Fraser describes how 'Though looked on with suspicion by some, ritual is simply the commonly
understood and anticipated modes of expression and behaviour by which a community seeks to engage with God.' I have become more aware that all ends of the church engage in ritual. I am equally as comfortable at the other end of the church but there I find ritual too - blocks of worship music followed by an opening up of the word and then the call to stand and receive further empowering from the Holy Spirit, to gather around one another in prayer and invoke God - Spirit come down and fill this near empty vessel again. 

I have become more aware that during the Book of Common Prayer Eucharist there really is no moment of epiclesis, it is more obviously there with Common Worship. I wonder now whether Common Worship cites the Gloria at a more appropriate moment after confession or so it seems to me because with the Book of Common Prayer we return more obviously again to our sinful state just as we leave to go out into the world and I am not always sure how helpful this is. During the main Sunday service, the congregation sing the Agnes Dei as I consume the Eucharist and then I can serve others. I am worshipping too as I am leading and sometimes on walking behind those candles to read the gospel I wonder if I might just keel over and I have to steady my steps and wear more sensible shoes these days.

Mark Fraser explores how the human soul craves exuberance in worship as we connect with the Holy in other-wordly ways, how this has always characterised the people of God: 'the three annual
pilgrimage feasts ... were undoubtedly the highlights of the nation’s worshipping life. Psalm 122 expresses the eager anticipation of pilgrims setting off to Jerusalem for the festival.'

I am praying that we will set off to New Wine in anticipation of God meeting us there. Next year, I will also attend my first 'On Fire' conference in April and am equally curious and open about the new ways in which God might meet me and my fellow pilgrims. 

The Festival of booths has often captured my imagination, seven whole days of celebrating God and retreating under canvas (booths) temporary accommodation much like the New Wine tent or caravan. As Mark Fraser explains: 'The Jewish festivals were more than an annual event; they formed a liturgical
calendar that shaped the worshipping life of the people throughout the entire year. For Israel the festival represented God’s presence at the conjunction of sacred time, sacred space and sanctified community.'

I am hoping that my more traditional community can sense the tradition that is pilgrimage and be inspired simply to act in a way characteristic to Christians down the centuries: 

'There are clear affinities between contemporary festival and pilgrimage. Both are motivated by a desire to encounter God on holy ground and involve stepping outside regular existence, and into a place invested with expectation, hope and anticipation of such experience.' Mark Fraser. 

Fraser looks at the Psalms for evidence of the worship experience that the Jewish festivals evoked. I have often been asked if emotionalism plays a part at these gatherings of Christians on mass but the original festivals were probably far more exuberant: 'Worshippers were deeply involved physically, in washing, dancing, shouting, prostration, clapping, singing and feasting.'

Remembering, reading and renewing was often the model and Fraser finds in contemporary worship environments a simple repetition of this pattern with the Worship, Word and Respond arrangement. It is all as simple as that, I guess, no need for clever strategies or programs just worship, scriptures and responding to the God we find there. 

Fraser calls us, as worship leaders, to renew that sense of the 'worship experience which seeks to touch the spirit by engaging the body through colour, aroma, sound, flavour and physical movement, and the imagination with drama and symbol.'

There is something healthy about the church that learns to festival together, they 'glimpse God’s vision for the world and are energized to work to reveal what is already there, waiting to be uncovered within the home context.' People come back with ideas that they then carefully translate and adapt together to the environment God has placed them in. 

And what is it that holds people back I wonder from all that God would have for them at the festival gathering? There is often something at work in the church acting as an inhibitor to worship, a kind of cap on joy, because the weight of the world presses in on us and needs lifting up in intercession and seems to require a certain gravity. This can render joy seemingly indulgent or guilt-inducing as if our energies might be better employed elsewhere but there is a right joy in God and perhaps there is the need for its liberation. Mark Fraser would go as far as to say, 'To deny a corporeal dimension to holy joy is to deny both our humanity and God’s gracious and abundant provision. It is also to deny the nature of Jesus’ character and ministry.' With a capacity for joy comes too a greater development of other emotions, most importantly the Christ-like compassion and sense of call that often accompanies those who engage in festival together. God's face and will is sought and as the presence brings joy so does the nearness of God pull in the one worshipping to what is on the heart of God. 

'Just as for the apostles on the mount of transfiguration, festival offers glimpses of glory not as an escape from real life but as a revelation of the ‘really, real,’ empowering us to discover the wonder of the kingdom amidst the ordinariness that awaits us at the foot of the mountain.' Mark Fraser.

My prayers over the next few weeks will be characterised by an appeal to God that he calls the new community that he has placed me in to festival together. Here, I live in hope. 


Slippery slopes and political hills

I remember going to my first Vocations Officer appointment in the 'discernment to ordination' process. I wondered if my hermeneutical approach to the book of Ruth would be something that they would like to hear about - not particularly, they said.

I spoke up to say that I had a lot of work to do first and I might return. Equally and just as likely, I might not. They identified my teaching skills and zeal of faith but there was some ambivalence over why I had to go away to do some serious work. It was over a year before I returned and in that time I had paid for my own theological education, accessing lectures on a range of issues but always listening out for teaching on the question of whether women could lead and preach in God's church.

The first essay I was asked to write was on the theological objections for and against female Bishops. Seeking accountability in my life, I asked John Richardson (AKA Ugley Vicar) to take a look at my essay with me. It is always good to engage with the very best of the arguments that do not support your own position.  I engaged with Grudem, Piper and McCarthur. I read Tom Wright on 'Women's service in the Church: the biblical basis'. I read Ken Bailey's 'Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes.'  Gilbert Bilezikian's 'Beyond Sex Roles - What the Bible says about a woman's role in Church and family,' was hugely helpful in the writing of that essay. It was because he had purposefully set out to make up his mind on the issue over several years and alongside a whole team of people who met together to discuss the topic of women in senior Christian ministries. There had been a shortage of leaders and they had wondered whether they could appoint women. A Christianity Today article explored Bilezikian's contribution to the debate:

Bilezikian says. "I'm not pursuing equality for its own sake; there is no mandate in the Bible to pursue equality. But there is a mandate to establish community. And authentic community necessarily implies full participation of women and men on the basis of spiritual gifts, not on the basis of sex... Mutual submission is a biblical concept... the words are used specifically in a number of texts but especially in Ephesians 5:21, where it says be mutually submitted to each other." The wife submits to the husband just as the church does to Christ, but there is a reciprocity, he says: "Christ submits himself in-depth to the church, and the church submits itself in service to Christ. But then the husband is also under submission because he has to love his wife as he loves himself, even to the point of self-sacrifice as Christ loved the church." Both men and women, then, desire to serve the other rather than to control the other, Bilezikian says. "Our natural tendency is to compete or take advantage of," he says. "The Bible says lay down your arms and instead extend your hands toward each other to help each other and to support each other; and for the relationship to be one of partnership and mutuality rather than one of hierarchy."

Bilezikian says he tries to live out these principles in his marriage, and they are also evident at his church. Not everyone at Willow Creek initially agreed with Bilezikian's position on women's ministry: among others, Hybels himself taught the traditional view of male headship. After months of study and debate, the church decided that it would support women in any position of leadership—teacher, preacher, elder. (There's a study guide available for "Beyond Sex Roles" McMillan, Kaye. A Study Guide for Beyond Sex Roles: Students’ Book – Questions Only. Saint Paul, Minn.: Christians for Biblical Equality, n.d.)

As I began to investigate the best arguments of my opponents for the writing of my first theological essay on the reasons for and against women bishops, The First Apology of Justin became poignant. Many headship complementarian evangelicals cite their justifications for their stance in their understanding of the Trinity, which is why the question over women's leading and teaching in God's church almost becomes a primary issue. The Trinity is core and doctrinal. Justin the Martyr is one of the church's earliest apologists, writing c100-c165. He articulated ideas about the Logos. He used the excellent analogy of the fire which can kindle another fire into life without the first fire being diminished, or the second fire being subordinate because it is derived from the first. Justin helped me in some ways with my apologetical urges against ESS (Eternal subordination of the Son) as espoused by Bruce and Ware. I loved reading chapter 54: The origin of Heathen Mythology in THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN, where he described how all the things that man-kind has ever expressed to know, have their origin in the Wisdom that is Logos: the pre-existent Christ, it's just that humanity has not for most of time and history been able to understand from where their knowledge has its origins.

I also happen to love Justin Martyr because he sees the cross everywhere:
'For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work, except with tools which have this shape. And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross. And so it was said by the prophet, "The breath before our face is the Lord Christ."'

There is talk today across the blogosphere and in the media, after the historic move to ratify the appointment of women to the episcopate, that the underlying reason for this is a capitulation to contemporary culture. What proponents of this argument fail to engage with, is the huge number of scholarly and sincere theologians who have painstakingly scrutinised the scriptures on this issue and who support the consecration of women out of their approach to the bible alone.

However, what if some have reached this decision in capitulation to contemporary culture?
Has such a point of view any validity? 

In his book Liquid Church, Pete Ward embraces rather than fears change: 'the church is not static and cannot make permanent the forms that prove effective in any particular time and place....Church is something that we make with one another by communicating Christ...church happens when people are motivated to communicate with each other.'

Perhaps then there is a mixture of motives in all things. Can we be purists in our defence that the debate is grounded in the scriptural case alone?  Is it more honourable to reckon with our opponents' claim that the decision has been reached for a number of reasons? These reasons too can be re-claimed for Christ. It would seem that Paul understood that adaptation of the message was necessary for it to be received by the culture. This would account for his various attitudes to the teaching role of women across the contexts into which he ministered.

About teaching Paul makes many points, and, as a former teacher, I am interested in his logic. His “I do not permit a woman to teach,” (1 Tim 2:12) is the subject of my Masters dissertation and so I have a lot of analysis to mine there but it is often the clincher for headship evangelicals for whom it is a prohibition for all time on women. 

In Titus 2:3, Paul explores the role of overseer (episkopos/ presbyteros). The feminine presbytis occurs in Titus 2:3. Paul hopes that the “older women” will teach (didaskō). Paul also supports co-workers (colleagues) Euodia and Syntyche who laboured with him side by side (Phil 4:2–3). Paul is supportive of Lydia (Acts 16:14–15, 40) who had oversight of one of the first house-churches. The Corinthians are reminded to “be subject to . . .every coworker,” and  to “give recognition to such people” (1 Cor 16:16, 18). The Oikos (household) was the setting for the first century church and there was not the common dichotomy we present these days between the public and private teaching of the scriptures. 

Despite these examples, headship evangelicals will promote the idea that society has captured the church and that the most obvious reason for the historic change is its currency with the contemporary equality agenda. Can anything be made of this, I ask again?  Could it be that the very message of the gospel itself would have been inhibited had this movement for women's full participation not occurred? 
Principles should always be above culture but God is known, through his Common Grace, to be at work within the culture too. 

And more persuasive, could it be that in his own day, Paul was aware of the cultural differences in particular parts of the mission field and that he too understood the requirement of adaptation (Acts 17)? 

It would seem that the extension of teaching ministries to women in places like Philippi was not echoed in places like Ephesus - could it be that Paul adapted his approach to suit the context of his own day? 

Lydia was a business woman and recognised for her leadership skills. Such a position would have been accepted in her habitation. In Ephesus, in contrast, female ascendency was the result of the women succumbing to heterodoxy due to the influence of the Artemis cult. A lack of respect for marriage was a symptom of this and there was an over-prominence of women. It was right that in such a culture, Paul should exercise caution and call for patience -- women would need to learn first and be won for Christ else such secular, anti-Christian cultish mores would influence their preaching. Learning in quietness was approved by the ancients as the most appropriate environment for a scholar hence his insistence on their attitude towards learning. 

Eunice and Lois had taught young Timothy but for the most part, Jewish women would not have had the same opportunities, under a rabbi, to study the Hebrew scriptures as a part of their upbringing. Within Gentile communities, there was more opportunity but often early marriage curtailed learning. Confronting heterodoxy, women would have been less equipped than men to discern truth from false teaching.

Lydia, on the other hand, had likely been a god-fearer and was then instructed in the gospel by Paul himself. He would have mentored her and he felt confident in her leadership of an early house church. 

It is right that there is a timeless prohibition with 1 Timothy 2 and often it causes cognitive dissonance for the hearer when I express my agreement with Paul's premise - I am usually then invited to go on and explain my thinking. In the letter to Timothy it is right that Paul shares his concerns.Young Timothy would have needed Paul's guidance as he set about proclaiming the gospel in a place such as Ephesus - what a place! Paul does not permit a woman “to domineer (usurp the authority) of (authenteō) a man, but to be in silence” (2:12b), oude connects “I am not permitting a woman to teach” with “to domineer or destroy (Josephus uses authentēs for “assassins”) (see also P Payne “Man and Woman, One in Christ” pp. 361-397.) There is hostility to the message of God in the Ephesian setting, and some, captured by the cult in operation there, were attempting to take their prominence to the 'pulpit.' It is not right that such syncretic, in fact, anti-Christian thinking should get a window. Paul is right to caution these false teachers. That it is somehow only women who can be false teachers is never the point - the all time prohibition is on false teachers of either gender - everyone is advised to learn and to study quietly first before they take on a teaching role in the church - this is what is extended into the future as a timeless mandate. 

Destruction, murder, assassination and treachery are connotations of authenteo as Catherine Kroeger explores: “In Ephesus women also assumed the role of the man-slaying Amazons who had founded the cult of Artemis of Ephesus. . . . Evidence of actual human sacrifice has been discovered at the lowest level of the great Artemisium.” Catherine Clark Kroeger, “God/dess of the Past,” The Goddess Revival: A Biblical Response to God(dess) Spirituality, ed. A. Besançon Spencer et al. (Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 1995), 58. Like Eve, Paul had been deceived by Satan and it had created murderous tendencies in him too - he, of all people, knew to caution against false teaching. Capitulating to heterodoxy brings spiritual death. 

If this is then what we are really to learn from Paul, it is essential that there is no positive discrimination in the appointment of women as Bishops. 

If we are to learn anything from the debate, it is that both men and women considered for this role of oversight in the church must conform their beliefs to the faith expressed in the thirty-nine articles and upheld in the scriptures.

A political hill might be being climbed and a glass ceiling broken but there are many for whom a slippery slope seems perilously close. The more able we are to place Paul's teaching in its right context, even if that context looks to the history of his day, as well as the timeless truths, the more able we will be to secure the right kind of leaders for this role in the church.

On hearing this week that my own training institution, St John's, is no longer accepting full time training ordinands, the church is obviously adapting to the culture - there is now a tendency to mix-mode your training with the Anglican Church. The church must take the call to life-long learning and the study of the scriptures ever more seriously as society moves away from its Christian heritage. I wonder how training institutions are going to rise to this challenge.

Paul had certainly begun to address this in his own day, advocating education. His "Let a women learn," was incredibly counter-culture - how amazing then that headship evangelicals have somehow managed to reverse the sentiment of his teaching. We learn in order to teach others - legacy leadership is always about investing in the next generation so that the message of Christ extends to our children and our children's children: women and men are both called to the safe-guarding and the communication of the faith. Regardless of gender we are all to bring spiritual life at every level of the church.

If we look more carefully at Paul's advice for teachers, in Crete the women are encouraged to teach what is good and holy and in Ephesus to avoid teaching what is wrong and false. Women teaching women was liberating in a place like Crete against the backdrop of its historical milieu but is not an exclusive command for all time just because then the gender specificity was culturally appropriate. New Wine is one such church organisation seeing the good gift that is same gender mentoring relationships - let's not throw any babies out with bathwaters. Education through modelling (typos 1 Thess) is important. It is important but it is not to the exclusion of women teaching men.

For St Paul, it is teaching, per se, that is important and a charism that is given to both genders. Being "skilful at teaching” is a requirement of the overseer (Bishop) (1 Timothy 3:2). We are taught so that we can teach others (2 Tim 2:2).

Paul says far more about right teaching and right learning than he ever does about gender and it is his words here that are to help the church secure its future Bishops. 


A Woman Bishop, m'lady? That'd be a Bishop, then, dear!

Highlights from the move today to present the measure on women bishops to the Queen -
The purpose of the Measure is to enable the Church of England, for the first time, to open all three orders of ministry—deacons, priests and bishops—without reference to gender.

Women priests now make up over a quarter of parish clergy and around half of priests in training. There are already 23 women archdeacons and six women deans. As a debate last year in Westminster Hall testified, over the past 20 years many women have given outstanding leadership to the Church of England and to our communities as vicars, archdeacons and cathedral deans.

... the Church will now be able to choose from the other half of the population for its most senior positions, which, all things being equal, must strengthen our hand? 
I am pleased that the decision has been reached to have no second-class category in the Church of England as far as women are concerned.

...this is a measure that has been welcomed by many other faith groups as well.

At General Synod, the Measure enjoyed overwhelming majorities at final approval in the three Houses of Synod, with 95% in the House of Bishops, 87% in the House of Clergy and 77% in the House of Laity—majorities that I suspect any party or combination of parties in this House would give their eye-teeth for. At the heart of the work and discussions on the new Measure was the ambition to do everything possible to maintain unity in the Church of England.  

“One of the most moving parts of this process has been listening to those who have been willing to go along with something that they feel passionately and deeply is not the right thing for the church to do…I say again that the Church of England is deeply committed to the flourishing of all those who are part of its life in the grace of God. It is not our intention that any particular group should wither on the vine.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 187.]

As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed a little while ago on “Newsnight”, “the biggest change in the last 20 months has been the way we treat each other and the way we are learning to treat people we disagree with.”

This Measures thus comes before us this evening with the overwhelming endorsement of every diocese in England and the overwhelming endorsement of every part of General Synod following a process of listening and reconciliation.

In a short and very moving speech, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, a Cross Bencher, explained that he had been brought up in the Catholic Church, but that what really mattered was love: “what is important is the degree of love… I enormously welcome women bishops…It is correct that we should also show great love to those who find this difficult.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 181.]

If we pass the Measure today, it will enable the Church to proceed to finalise matters at the General Synod next month. That potentially means that from 17 November, each diocesan bishop vacancy considered by the Crown Nominations Commission and each suffragan bishop vacancy considered by the relevant diocesan bishop will be open to women as to men.

One consequence of the Measure is that it will be possible for women to become Lords Spiritual and to sit in the House of Lords. At present, diocesan bishops are appointed to the House of Lords on the basis of seniority, so getting women bishops into the House of Lords could take some time if the normal system of seniority were simply left to take its course. However, I am glad to be able to report to the House that there has been consultation with all the main parties on the possibility of introducing a short, simple Government Bill to accelerate the arrival of the first woman bishop in the House of Lords, and I hope that such a Bill will be able to be taken through during this Session.

I want to put in an early bid. The Bishop of Hull is leaving his post and moving on, and, as Hull is a pioneering city—remember William Wilberforce and Amy Johnson—I believe that the bishopric of Hull would be an ideal starting place for the first woman bishop in the House of Lords.
The Bishop of Oxford is retiring shortly. There are many excellent women in senior posts in the Church, and I have absolutely no doubt that the first women bishops—and, indeed, all those women who are made bishops—will be excellent candidates. 

Perhaps it began with those women we read about in the New Testament: Phoebe, the deacon; Priscilla, the teacher; and Lydia, whose house became a home for the Church. Perhaps it began with the Genesis story, which is open to different interpretations.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…God saw everything that he had made and indeed it was very good.”

Let me now deal with the details of the Measure. Clause 2 makes it clear that bishops are not public office holders under the Equality Act 2010. It is a necessary provision, enabling the Church to provide for those who, as a result of theological conviction, do not wish to receive episcopal oversight from a woman.... I do not think that it is necessary at all. It is the one element of the Measure that I think is unfortunate: I think it unfortunate that, at a time when we are advancing equality, we have to amend the Equality Act to carve out a chunk of the Church of England.

Will the new conservative evangelical headship bishop minister beyond the parishes that specifically request his ministry?

During the debate many people were swayed by the citing of a number of female Cornish saints and the great contribution they made to the early development of Christianity. That was a timely reminder of the significant role that women have played in the Church over many centuries. 

there is a fantastic opportunity for a woman to become a bishop very soon in my constituency, as our current bishop, Bishop Michael, retires in only a month’s time, after 10 years’ outstanding service? Does she agree that that great opportunity should not be missed?

I can think of an excellent candidate who is sitting with us this evening and whom all of us would thoroughly recommend to be one of the earliest adopted new bishops.

Let us see today as that great moment of celebration—of women celebrating their vocation and making our lives all the richer for it.

If Jesus brought anything into our world, it is justice and righteousness. We should have picked that up, and should have forced this change through far earlier.

“We love the Church of England, and want it to be the best it can.” With this Measure, it can be better.

There have been few moments in the House of Commons that have given me this much pleasure.

I also pay tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I always said that I thought that it would take somebody coming from his tradition within the Church of England to drag it into the modern age, and I am in danger of being proved right. He has shown real leadership and determination and organisational skills, political skills with a small p, which are essential in that job to get anything done. The majority that was achieved in the Synod last time took my breath away given what had happened the time before.

In too many areas women are still under-represented in British society. In the Church of England, the stained glass ceiling, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has termed it, was enshrined in law. Today we have the opportunity to ensure that that is no longer the case.

I want to pay tribute to all the women and men who over many years have campaigned on this issue: to bring the full extent of women’s ministry into the Church of England so that they can rightly take their places as deacons, priests and now bishops, and hopefully as archbishops.

I am delighted that we are finally here today—it has taken a very, very long time. I hope that Ministers will be able to give some indication of when legislation will be brought before this House so that matters can be expedited to ensure that we have a woman bishop in the House of Lords as soon as possible.

This is a historic moment that we should note, because it gives the Church a real chance to look more like the society that it seeks to serve. A Church with women in office at the highest levels of authority will better reflect British society today. 

God, this has been a long time coming, hasn’t it?  

Question put and agreed to.


That the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure (HC 621), passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which it was laid before Parliament.

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Influential Women

Influential Women

I have now finished Wendy Virgo's 'Influential women'. This book grabbed my attention because of the blurb on its front cover, which explains: 'From the New Testament to today - how women can build up (or undermine) their local church.'

On Amazon it is described with the following title, which is not actually to be found on either the front or back of the book:

'Influential Women: From the New Testament to Today - How Women Can Build Up or Undermine Their Local Church: How Women Can Bless - or Ruin - Their Local Church - Wendy Virgo'
I was puzzled as to why the idea of women undermining the church was put in parenthesis. I realise why now. Women will be attracted to this book initially as they seek to learn how they might build up the church. What they soon realise it that this book's aims are subtle, hence the parenthesis but then liberated from such punctuation inhibitors later. The book's aims will squarely smack you between the chops and if you are undecided about what you think God's will might be for women in the Church, you will be taught that if your callings are to eldership, the pastorate or leadership of a mixed congregation, then according to Wendy Virgo you are entertaining a 'Jezebelic spirit'.

When I started this book, I skimmed a little. It is a bit pedestrian. It is light-hearted and entertaining. It is imaginative. She adds details to the biblical portrayals of Priscilla, Tabitha, Lois and Eunice, Euodia and Syntyche. The blurb on the back describes how 'Some were saints, full of good works; some were frankly poisonous and did considerable harm. What can we learn?'

So what did I learn?

Well, at first I wondered whether learning was the point. And I think that this is part of the book's weakness. We tell entertaining stories to teach each other but somehow Virgo doesn't quite pull it off. Three quarters of the read was entertaining and interesting, of a kind. Virgo adds colour and detail from her imagination, which fleshes out the holes in the original stories, as she surmises about how old these women were, how they entertained themselves, what they thought about...

However, the last third of the book, is of a different tone altogether. Here, we are to swallow her bitter pill, concur with the 'theology' of her complementarian mindset, prayerfully seek forgiveness for our 'jezebelic spirits', if we have entertained 'aspirations' for which we were not built.

Virgo morphs from imaginative fancy grounded in truths but padded out for our delight to, well, attempts to correct and admonish the wayward thinking that is a product of our time and the influence of the devil.

The book ends prematurely. It is as if we are left with nowhere to go. If we are left weeping, she has already been there as she struggled to tame her own rebellious heart! We are presented, before this premature end, with descriptions of her ultimately 'influential women': Eve and Mary.

Eve failed her husband and failed God. It was her independent spirit which has ruined us!

Mary obeyed God, was willing to be his servant in bearing Jesus.

The theology here is well-worn and centuries old, we are either the rebel or the virgin and there are no shades in between.

It's all that simple!

The argument is crass and unconvincing in its application to women. Never is there any discussion of Mary's counter-cultural predicament, what her relationship must have been like with Joseph in this marriage which did little to conform to the norms. Never is there any discussion of any other way of looking at the fall and what God planned for man and woman before it.

Headship and hierarchy are the holy words in this book and we are left in no doubt as to the sort of woman who will ruin her local church - Eve-like, if she is unable to gain the power she quests, she will result to using her sexuality to unsettle the men there. My goodness! Local church - watch out!!

This book does not inspire a healthy vision for either men or women, in the local church.

Entertaining until the end when Virgo's parenthetical aims emerged. 3 out of 10.


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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.