In advance of the Church in Wales' debate on women in the episcopate tomorrow, the Chair of WATCH sent the following letter of support ....
To our sisters and brothers of the Church in Wales,
This is to assure you of WATCH’s continuing prayers as you approach Thursday’s crucial debate on women in the episcopate in the Church in Wales.
All eyes will be on your Governing Body as you try to find a way forward on this issue – particularly in the light of the heightened media interest after the disastrous vote in the Church of England’s General Synod last November. No one could have anticipated the levels of grief and outrage that followed our vote. The draft legislation had been so watered down to accommodate those opposed that those in favour were no longer sure they should support it – and it failed to pass in the end. The morale of our women clergy hit an all-time low with many expressing real doubts about whether they could carry on their ministry. Others associated with the Church of England continue to express their shame at being connected with an organisation that could get it so wrong on something that, in most people’s eyes, is so simple and so right!
What our experience has made clear is that the equal treatment of women in ordained ministry goes to the heart of the credibility of our Church in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in this generation. We have no credibility in proclaiming a Gospel of peace built on justice when we cannot offer a just institutional framework for the exercise of ministry by women. Until we have sorted this out in a way that is clear and unequivocal in its complete acceptance and affirmation of women at all levels in our Church, we will continue to be marginalised and we will increasingly be ignored.
Our problems started back in 1992/3 when legislation and an Act of Synod were passed that allowed women priests but at the same time legitimised discrimination against those women priests. Most people believed this to be temporary and primarily pastoral provision but far from helping us transition well, it has effectively instituted schism in our Church on this issue for twenty years and made the transition to ordaining women as bishops very much harder. Lack of a clarity in the way we ordained women in 1992/3 led to a great deal more pain for everyone involved as we tried to take the next step last year.
The truth is that there can be no equivocation on this issue that does not communicate equivocation about the Gospel itself. We cannot have it both ways. Either our Gospel tells us that we must open all orders of ministry to women or it does not. A Church cannot try to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on this issue without dealing itself a near-fatal injury in the eyes of all who are watching. That’s what the Church of England managed to achieve in November and we’re struggling to recover.
But what is clear from the English experience, as evidenced in the House of Bishops’ statement in February, is that we now realise the necessity of clear and unequivocal action to get our house in order. We are now seeking to produce legislation that does not enshrine discrimination in law and is unequivocal about the ordination of women as deacons, priests and bishops. We want to care for those who find this step difficult, of course, but we must have the courage of our convictions and be seen to act decisively for what the vast majority of the Church and the society we seek to serve regards as a Gospel imperative.
I pray that the Church in Wales will not repeat our mistakes. As a child of Welsh parents and someone who has a great love of the Principality, I know the passion, courage and generosity that characterize “the Land of my Fathers”. It breaks my heart to think that the Church in Wales might lack the courage to move forward with clarity on this issue and instead try a complicated and legalistic manoeuvre that tries to achieve the impossible: something that has been tried, and failed dismally, in England.
So my prayers are with you and all those at the Governing Body meeting on Thursday – that the Spirit will guide you to a courageous and positive outcome that the Church in Wales can be proud of.
With all good wishes and many prayers,
The Reverend Rachel Weir
Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church)
on behalf of the national WATCH committee