Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Women Bishops--the Church of England finally woke up!

This morning I hear that the Synod of Church of England (CoE) finally voted to pass women bishops.  It was good news for the sisterhood in the UK.  There have been some really good women passed over for the past 15 years.  The process to become a bishop in the CoE is still pretty arcane but there will be women who are appointed bishop none the less.  It would be nice if the CoE could be more elective in their process, but that will not come to be in an established church.

The first woman in the Anglican Communion to be consecrated bishop was Barbara Harris, suffragan (assistant) bishop of Massachusetts and the first woman who was elected ordinary (in charge of a diocese) was Penny Jamieson in 1989 in Dunedin, New Zealand.  The third was Jane Holmes Dixon, as suffragan in Washington, DC.  I had the privilege of voting in that election and serving with Jane.  She brought a wonderful sense of steel magnolia to that position.  She was a great pastor and most of all a good friend. We had been among a very small group of women rectors when I was called to the Diocese of Washington and would have lunch frequently to shore each other up. I remember her saying to me:  "they tell me that once
you become a bishop that people never tell you the truth.  Will you always tell me the truth?"  And I vowed then to always tell her what I saw and how I understood situations.  There were always things that I didn't understand about the role of bishop, but I did know that +Jane always knew the truth I held.  What she did with that was what the role of the bishop demanded of her.

The CoE has been much slower to grasp the need for women clergy and now bishops.  Brits, on the whole, tend to be more conservative on social issues--and yet they led the US on so many things---slavery is first to come to mind.  And socially they are far ahead of the US on the acceptance of LGBTQ issues.  But the CoE has been slower to come around on that issue than the government.

Two weeks ago I sat in a coffee hour at the first English-speaking non-Roman Catholic church in Mexico City.  It was Remembrance (Armistice) Day and the British Ambassador was part of the services.  With me at the table were the parents of a young man who was part of the embassy contingent.  We spoke with him for a bit and a young Mexican man.  Mom and dad were appropriately proud of their son.  We went on to discuss church matters in Mexico with a local cleric which included the situation of LGBTQ folk.  As the group broke up, the father leaned over to me and nodded at his son, "Legal union, those two. We are very proud of them."  And followed his son and husband out.

In some ways the Brits lead us.  And at times we lead them.  The British government has got it right;
the CoE hasn't yet.  But that is what makes the Anglican Communion strong.  We do not have to get to the same place at the same time.

The CoE has gotten to women bishops now.  And it is now that we are going to start seeing just how women's ministry can fulfill its promise:  to bring another dimension to the hierarchy.  If women are allowed to bring to their unique talent of being woman with all that entails to the upper echelons of the CoE then the Church will change. And the Anglican Communion will too.

The retired Archbishop of Canterbury Carey has said that the Church will die in another generation.  Now, I have never been a fan of Lord Carey, but the Church that he has been a part of will die in another generation.  It always does.  But the Church of the future will be different and hopefully will be different because the women bishops who will be consecrated to embrace something other than the inflexible Church of now. 

This is part of the reason I am so concerned about the young priests that are presenting themselves for ordination today.  Are they looking to merely preserve what they have known or are they willing to envision a new world, a new Church?  I have no idea what that might mean because I do not have the grace of youth, but it must be founded upon the love of God and an abiding love for God and human kind.

The women of CoE have the possibility of stepping forward in a new way.  May they be given the grace to lead the CoE into an new age of faith.

1 comment:

Lay Anglicana said...

I echo the prayer in your last sentence.
But yes, we are more or less there. Some of the more battle-scarred amongst us are waiting to see the fine print, however :>)