"Keep wearing purple, it suits you…"

Yesterday morning, I got up eagerly (always bit of a novelty), excited at what the day would hold. As much of the day’s work as possible was undertaken at home so that I could listen to General Synod’s livestream in the comfort of my living room. Once at the office, Twitter kept me informed. By evening, as the women bishops debate was drawing to a close, my headphones went in, and I listened to the debate while moving chairs. (I was the epitome of this Dave Walker cartoon, sans cassock.) The vote took place as I was briefing a home group in how they would be helping with Student Alpha that night. Everyone paused as the numbers were read out. When it got to the House of Laity, the home group leader looked at me – I hadn’t done the maths, but he had and his face told me it had been lost.

Episcopal ManicureChurch politics via nail art.

The aftermath of Synod’s vote was wide-reaching. I can only really speak for myself, but the news was far more upsetting than I thought it would be. I understand the legislation and the fact that, in principle, having women bishops has been agreed – the vote yesterday was actually to do with the provision that should be made for those that do not feel able to serve under one. I know that it’s simply a matter of time. I know that this decision should not affect my calling to ministry in the Church of England.

But, I was hurt. Very hurt.

This morning, several hundred tweets later and having made a promise to my mother that I would not blog on this subject until I’d slept on it, I’m trying to reflect on how today works after yesterday’s excitement and disappointment. So here are some thoughts…

  • This will happen. Potentially (having just listened to ++Rowan’s speech to synod) earlier than we thought it might last night. When it does, the compromise that several of the laity will have voted against may no longer be there and women will be in a better position overall.
  • That it will happen one day is little solace for the women who are ready to be bishops now, but may well be unable to take up that position in several years time. Several people told me yesterday that it would be ok, that I would see this change in my life time, that I could still be a bishop – but what about those for whom it was the last chance?
  • The Church of England needs to look carefully at its governance structures and encourage those who might not otherwise consider it, to get involved. Yes, church politics can be terrifically dull, but I’d gladly sit through endless meetings about chairs if it meant I got to vote on bishops. I spotted an interesting Facebook thread last night between some students I know, all wondering what it would take to get on Synod – that needs to be encouraged!
  • On the same note, the church needs to get to grips with youth participation. I was stunned, towards the end of yesterday’s debate, to hear an eloquent 22 year old female ordinand – who was attending synod as a result of her membership of the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC) – mention that she didn’t actually get to vote. This person could contribute to debate, yet not vote?! That is not participation, that’s tokenism and the CofE should be ashamed of themselves. Having heard year after year of excellent contributions from Methodist Youth Reps at Conference, all of whom had full voting rights, it seems ridiculous that the CofE hasn’t caught up.
  • Twitter is a beautiful place. When I was grieving, yet having to put on a competent, happy front at work, people across the world comforted me. Actually, not just Twitter, Facebook too. But it was on Twitter that I saw again and again just how outraged people were by the decision; who affirmed women’s place in the church; who felt how I felt; who were able to crack jokes about it when my sense of humour deserted me… This tweet summed up how I felt:

  • When the decision first came through, I had a moment of wondering whether I’d made an horrific mistake in leaving the Methodists for the Anglicans – after all, I could hold whatever position I wanted to in Methodism (well, providing I was qualified for it, my gender wouldn’t be an issue). Almost immediately, a tweet from one of my closest college friends appeared, saying: “Unbelievable. Think I’ll become a Methodist.” which didn’t massively help me. I knew I’d been called to the CofE, I knew I was willing to fight, but it felt very hard at that moment and almost as though every Methodist I knew was smugly thinking “thank goodness we’re out of that!”. They weren’t, I was being illogical, and much of the support I received last night was from Methodist friends (and my own Methodist parents). But, the Methodists still have work to do and I think last night this became more apparent. Yes, women can hold high office, but do they? Not as much as they ought to. Current number of women in senior management within the Connexional Team? Zero. If this furore about women in the CofE helps women in Methodism get further, then that’s a good thing.

So this morning, we get up and we get on with life. The world outside the church understands even less of what’s gone on than those inside do, so we need to be gracious and caring and not contribute to a belief that this is the death of the church. It is not. We need to show women – particularly young women – that there is still a place for them within the church, and we need to affirm the women that are already serving within it.

We also need to remember that life goes on despite all of this, and that life can be hard and painful. Why mourn women bishops when people are being killed in Gaza? My personal wallowing in self-pity was brought to an abrupt halt late last night as I heard that a friend had been rushed into hospital with acute myeloid leukaemia – probably as a result of radiography having been diagnosed with lymphoma a few years ago, an illness her husband was then diagnosed with earlier this year. The news put life dramatically into perspective.

Ultimately, I will continue what I’m doing – training for ordination, helping to lead a church – and will take the advice of a reassuring friend in a chat last night: “keep wearing purple; it suits you.” 

Comments

  1. A wonderful post! thanks for sharing your pain and raising issues wider than the CofE, I was out with a few Methodist pals last night and the evening was full of conversation around the vote but also about FX and the issues facing many churches where the future looks bleak. There are many issues for all churches to confront and we are a work in progress and i’m thankful that the struggle on many different fronts makes us more determined than ever… Change will come… God is with us! God Bless

  2. Thank you Liz. Be affirmed in your calling. It is only a minority that voted against and how we as the church handle this will be noticed by the wider public. I’ve been away from work for a couple of days so I am looking forward to some interesting conversations tomorrow! God Bless you. Change will come. Not in our timing but in God’s timing.

  3. I was reading your post and mentally ‘liking’ point after point.
    I’m not as close to the decision as you so it’s a little easier for me to be objective. If the vote had gone the other way do you think ‘we’ would be talking about it so much? Granted it is disheartening to some, but I imagine it will also fire some people up and make them realise that they actually care about the church.
    I often find that when things don’t go the way you think they should, it’s because there’s something even better round the corner. x

    • Interesting point! I think if it had been passed there would have been quite a lot of attention in the ‘real’ world, but certainly not as much as there’s been today. I think the main issue is that so much of the press has ignored the crucial fact that many people in favour of women bishops voted against the measure because they felt too many concessions had been made to those against them. It’ll be interesting to see if this makes people care more for the church…

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