Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Service as Usual

I thought I would write this the morning after the historical vote at Synod to enabled bishops (both male and female) in the Church of England.

I am reminded this morning of the relief I felt one time walking out of the classroom aged 5 when I and a number of others had been asked to stand up in class and explain to the rest of the children why we were leaving to go to another school.  The fact was that school was closer to home and the decision, of course, had not been made by us.  We were being asked to defend someone else's process.

The sense of relief yesterday (yes, rather than huge rejoicing) experienced by a number of us ordained women was palpable, for us it had been personal and the decision meant that we would no longer have to defend our gender, our willingness to use our gifts or our calling by the church. Since the Rochester Report in 2004, those women who have found themselves in key positions in the C of E, be that of incumbent, or Area Dean or Archdeacon, have been called upon to explain, speak up, argue for and defend the calling of women as priests and bishops. It has been costly. The process, totally out of our hands and overseen by the House of Bishops has taken us on a roller coaster ride and it wasn't until yesterday that I realised how hard that had been.

Giving our gifts to God and God's church more than twenty years ago has not only been about being the 'first' this and the 'first' that but caught up personally in the Churches disagreement about how and to whom should we minister.   For the first time now (with the rescinding of the Act of Synod and the acceptance of 5 principles) can we sit in a room with our brothers and sisters truly recognised by the Church of England as being valid priests by virtue of our gender.

Yesterday it literally felt that the pressure had been lifted and we were freed to all be who God called us to be.  No longer would there be an onus on us to defend our calling in synod debates, or rounds of PCC or deanery discussions, pitched against those who don't feel we have the right to be who we happen to have become and I rejoice.

If I had been called to speak yesterday I would have spoken about process and understanding.  The Rochester report gave us an understanding of what others believed, and the debates since with those who share a different view, have given expression to this.  It has helped me understand other loyal anglicans.  However the process has taken us into a way of debate which has polarised us into groups - labelled liberal, conservative and catholic and set us against one another.  The process has made it hard to interact with more than agreeing or disagreeing with motions set before us.   It was not until the jolt that was November 2012 that the Bishops realised how much notice the world was taking, and the process changed.  There has since been engagement and dialogue.  I sat down with someone from another constituency to share and she exclaimed positively  ' I have never met anyone like you before'!

It was sobering yesterday that as soon as we passed the motion, after a short break it was business as usual.  Up and down the country too it was business as usual.  From conservative evangelical churches to Anglo-Catholic Churches and everything in between, Christians and priests were going about their lives just being who God wants us to be.   It is my prayer now that we get on with being Church together and find creative ways to do that. That lessons can be learnt about process and the pastoral implications of it.

I have always thought that if you do not join a 'party' group that General Synod can be a very lonely place.  I will not be the only one today who is experiencing their own inner reflections on what it means to be a person called by God to serve the Church at this time in our history. It is good that it is almost time to go home.  And as we do so, many of us rejoicingly,  I pray too that as we walk this new future together, we do so with lots of grace and mindful always of those who find themselves through no fault of their own, caught up in our own decision making.