20.10.14

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.

Ordered,,

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