Today I think I witnessed the Church's decision-making at its best.
The General Synod (which I am attending during the episcopal interregnum) overwhelmingly gave welcome to a package of proposals which charts the way forward to permit the consecration of women as bishops. This is the first stage towards a process. Final approval will be at a later stage.
The remarkable thing was to witness members of the Synod from every theological stripe in the Church of England give support to the package of proposals. There were 33 speeches, and all but two were largely positive towards the package. Yes, there were wise words of caution, and a reminder that we should not be complacent as we move forward as there will be hard work involved in the next stages. In particular there was a warning not to tinker with the careful and delicate balance that has been sought in the proposals.
5 guiding principles, which must be held together as they create the balance needed, under-gird the proposals:
- The Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
- Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
- Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
- Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
- Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.
Perhaps we are learning to walk together on the way, as syn-hodos means.