Coming less than a week after the Referendum, we gathered against a backdrop of uncertainty, anxiety and tension, particularly raw in London. How refreshing then for the 40 or so people who came to St Stephen’s Walbrook to join a lively group of lay and ordained, men and women, young and old, gay and straight, and of differing ethnic backgrounds – ie, “real” Church. We were delighted to welcome the newly arrived Archdeacon of Hackney, Ven Liz Adekunle, who when addressing us later told us all to go on doing what we had been doing, and to “be ourselves”. We also welcomed some of London’s General Synod representatives, friends from other dioceses – including a visitor from the embryonic WATCH in Wales! – and especially women priests who had recently taken up posts in London from outside the diocese.
St Stephen’s itself is a magnificent building. A large party followed Revd Sally Muggeridge, the curate, as she guided them around pointing out such varied gems as the Henry Moore altar and Revd Chad Varah’s original Samaritans telephone. After this, we listened to Hilary Cotton, the Chair of National WATCH about developments on the national scene. While still pursuing the interests of ordained women through the Transformations Group, attention has turned to enabling lay women to play their full part in church life, and Lay Days are being organised across the country, the next scheduled for Exeter. A major focus of WATCH’s effort is Gender Justice, with the objective of securing a GJ policy for the Church of England. And WATCH’s reach now stretches beyond the national, in co-operation with Christian Aid, the Mothers Union, and the global Side-by-Side movement. A joint fringe meeting with these organisations would be held at this July’s meeting of General Synod. Following Hilary, the Chair of London WATCH, Mary Johnston, urged anyone who was not yet a member of National WATCH to join, so as to receive regular news of events and to support its impressive work.
Mary spoke about the work of London WATCH, of the London Diocese’s long history of being hesitant, even hostile, towards ordained women, hence the founding of WATCH in London. While the situation has steadily improved, it has been patchy, so the arrival of an ordaining bishop at long last in the Edmonton Area has been a great relief and joy, a positive appointment for which London WATCH had worked hard. Four London members had been to see Bishop Rob for what proved to be a very constructive meeting describing the unhappy legacy in his Area regarding women, and offering our support. A similar visit to the Bishop of Kensington is planned, though the Kensington Area situation is far more congenial. Whenever the Bishop of London retires, WATCH is ready to contribute to securing a new Diocesan willing to ordain women priests. London WATCH has played its part on the national scene, notably in the struggle for women bishops, but more recently working for better representation on General Synod through the co-ordinated election campaign led by one of our committee members, Revd Stephen France. Less obviously, support has been offered to parishes and women on an individual basis.
Mary invited suggestions about the future direction of WATCH in London, and fresh thinking in general, particularly from those with clerical experience from outside the diocese, or from their current secular employment. Their contributions and active participation would be warmly welcomed by the committee.
After delicious food and drink, and much lively conversation, the evening closed with a very special eucharist, celebrated by Revd Sally for the first time following her ordination to the priesthood the previous weekend.