Women bishops: Church of England still divided but now prepared to trust each other

The route out of the impasse was found in part through facilitated conversations, in which differences can be deeply explored and solutions sought

Share

So finally the Church of England may have women bishops. At the vote today, bishops and clergy members of General Synod maintained the support they had shown in November 2012 when the enabling legislation was vetoed by the laity. This time sufficient numbers of the laity switched sides to give the required two-thirds majority. What made the  difference?

It probably wasn’t the speeches on the day that changed minds. Many of them were excellent, especially before lunch, as somebody unkindly observed. But then the Synod audience knew the arguments back to front. Only one address stirred passions. This was a barnstorming speech by John Spence, who is visually impaired. He told how his eyesight had suddenly deteriorated in his thirties and had been advised that it would be difficult for him to retain his job. But he had persevered and he had succeeded by trusting that colleagues and friends would help him realise his strong desire to continue working in a senior capacity.

He urged Synod members to trust each other in the same way despite their sometimes bitter divisions.

There were other factors. The disapproval that rejection generated in November 2012 among ordinary members of the public was so overwhelming that the conservative evangelicals, who had instinctively opposed women bishops on the grounds that no biblical authority for them existed, were prepared to join an attempt to see whether a new way forward could be found.

Then searching for a route out of the impasse was substantially helped by the use of what are called facilitated conversations, in which differences can be deeply explored and solutions or safeguards sought. This technique is borrowed from the disciplines of mediation in which Archbishop Welby is expert and experienced.

A helpful decision was also taken by the House of Bishops when it drew up a statement of guiding principles that would bring comfort to the conservative evangelicals while at the same time emphasising that women bishops would enjoy precisely the same powers as men. 

They were not to be second-class bishops as had been feared when the legislation was first drafted. Thus the conservative evangelicals were promised that the Church of England remained “committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures” while future women bishops were told that they would receive “due respect and canonical obedience”.

In fact what the Church of England achieved here is noteworthy. For like so many institutions it has been struggling to overcome a lack of trust among its members.

In relation to women bishops, the questions became – how do we live with disagreement, how do we move from the legalistic to the relational, can we learn to respect difference? The Church is far from alone in facing such questions.

Andreas Whittam Smith is the First Church Estates Commissioner, as well as  one of the founders of  The Independent

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Senior Research Fellow in Water and Resilient communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Leeds November start...

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fathers should have their statutory paternity leave doubled, a think tank has said  

Extended paternity leave is a baby step towards equal parenting

Louise Scodie
 

There's nothing wrong with 'sexting' - everyone has done it

Natasha Devon
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker