This Spring marks the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests in the Church of England. I participated at a special service at Lambeth Palace along with previous WATCH chair Christina Rees. The Archbishop spoke about looking forward to the day when we do not need to mark anniversaries because the presence of women clergy has become unremarkable, yet he acknowledged that there is still much to be done to make the Church of England a fully inclusive church for women.
The Five Guiding Principles and The Independent Reviewer
The 2014 legislation which allowed for the consecration of women also introduced the 5 Guiding Principles and the House of Bishops declaration. An Independent Reviewer was appointed to look at cases where parishes or individuals felt their needs were not being properly respected.
The current Independent Reviewer is Sir William Fittall who has taken over from Sir Philip Mawer. He has made two investigations and the full reports can be read here. …
The first case makes two very important points.
- The legislation of 2014 only makes provision for theological views about receiving the ordained ministry of women. Therefore parishes should not use this legislation to try to get Episcopal oversight that better correlates to other theological issues they have. In this case, the issue was around divorce and remarriage. We need to watch carefully that it is not used as a means for people to simply choose a bishop of their liking.
- This ruling provides a very good discussion of ‘taint’. The suggestion that a bishop consecrated by a bishop who also ordains and consecrates women cannot be considered a suitable bishop to offer oversight to a parish that does not recognise the ordained ministry of women would be tantamount to a theory of taint. Those who do not accept the priestly ministry of women have clearly distanced themselves from any theology of taint. Therefore, they cannot suggest that there is a question about the suitability of a male bishop consecrated by a bishop who has consecrated women, any more than they can query the ordination of a man ordained by a bishop who also ordains women.
The discussion around taint is particularly useful and worth reading in full.
The second case is about how to practically provide for the needs of the minority who do not accept women’s ordained ministry in the setting of cathedrals. This was about a request from an individual to know who will be presiding at services to allow an individual to make choices about whether to attend based on the gender of the celebrant. The ruling suggests that the request to see the rotas is a fairly straightforward request and to not give this information to someone who has asked is to not take seriously their theological position.
These rulings make interesting reading in how to work with the legislation. What is becoming clear is that it is not within the scope of the Independent Reviewer to look at cases where those in favour of the ordained ministry of women feel that their needs are not being met in parishes.
At WATCH we hear from a number of sad cases where resolutions have been passed in ways that members of the congregation feel uncomfortable with, but have little recourse to challenge. We also hear sad stories of new incumbents not allowing the sacramental or preaching ministry of women in churches where this has in the past been welcome. There are no obvious mechanisms to help in these cases, though we try to give supportive advice.
I continue to sit on the Implementation and Dialogue working group for the 5 Guiding Principles. It is due to make an interim report to the House of Bishops later this year.
One of the issues that we are looking at is how to encourage transparency from churches that do not accept the ordained ministry of women, particularly churches that have a theology of headship. We are aware of women, especially younger women, attracted to large churches in which they only gradually become aware that women are treated differently. It can be hard to discover and develop a sense of vocation within a church that limits what women can do in terms of ministry. To leave a church community where you have found friends in order to follow a call is something that some of us have had to do and we do not underestimate the pain of such a decision. We would encourage churches to be up front and clear about the theology of gender they hold to.
We encourage churches that are supportive of women’s ministry to be up front about it too. Our churches so often fail to understand the social changes in our country which mean that, for most people, discrimination in terms of gender, sexuality and other protected characteristics is not acceptable. In most places of work it is, of course, not legal to discriminate in this way under the Equalities Act 2010.
Statistics on Women’s Ministry
The Church of England releases statistics about ministry collated by Church House. One of our national committee members then works hard to reflect on these from the perspective of women. We have released a report which you can find on our website.
We look at women in incumbency roles within diocese. Twenty-five years on from the first wave of women priests we find that one diocese has 40% of women in these roles. However, most have less than a third of women in these roles and there are still a small number of dioceses with figures under 15%.
Women still make up a large proportion of self-supporting ministers, SSM. But collecting information about these seems to be more complex.
Women still tend to enter training at a later age than men and this has implications for the kind of training offered and for access to senior posts in the future.
We also note that this year is the 50th anniversary of women in Reader ministry.
Collecting information about lay women’s involvement and experience of the church is much harder and we continue to think about how we might find ways of gathering meaningful data.
See our Report on Developments in Women’s Ministry 2018
WATCH has two members as part of the Transformations Steering Group. This group continues to work at raising issues that impact particularly on ordained women. We have been focusing for a long time on provision for maternity leave, particularly trying to ensure some kind of consistent maternity policy across the church and looking at the gaps. One ‘gap’ is the provision for women who become pregnant as they complete their training. It has been unclear who has responsibility for their maternity leave, and these women can find themselves in very tenuous positions. Transformation members have raised these issues consistently and we do appear to be making progress. The Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee are in the process of making recommendations which should cover most of the issues we have raised. Most importantly, they are beginning to see that women of child bearing age are a valuable resource for the church, and caring for them when they have children should be seen as investing in them, rather than as a problem.
A Transformation day for Bishops and Deans of Women’s Ministry is being planned for 7th November to look positively at how women clergy can be best enabled to prosper and flourish.
The group will continue to look at issues around young female vocations, women leading larger churches, bullying and harassment (does this have gendered elements?), and language and liturgy.
Liturgy and Worship
Looking back to the days of MOW, many of us remember the booklet Celebrating Women. This brought together prayers and poems that used feminine language and imagery. It was, for me, a real gift, enabling me to begin to explore different ways of speaking to and about God. We would like to produce a similar booklet to mark this 25th anniversary year. If you have prayers, poems or litanies that you have written and feel able to offer to others, we would love to receive them. Please send to email@example.com
Rev Mark Bennet has given tireless service to WATCH in many ways, not least as our Treasurer. We thank him for his hard work and would like to enable him to hand the work over. We are, therefore, very keen to hear from anyone who would be prepared to take on this role.
See details of the Treasurer’s Role
We have decided to move the date of our AGM this year, as many members told us that the late November date clashed with their Diocesan Synods. We will hold the AGM on 5th October. Our speaker will be the First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, while Bishop Anne Hollinghurst will preside at the Eucharist.
Finally, I would like to wish all our members a Blessed and Happy Easter. As we reflect again on the joyful news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we renew our hope for our world, trusting in our God who overcomes hate with love and death with life. The Holy Week and Easter stories are full of women. The woman who, like a prophet, anoints Jesus head. The women of Jerusalem who weep as Jesus carries the cross. The women disciples who watch the suffering of the crucifixion. The women who come early to the tomb on Easter morning. The mother who mourns her son. The first witness of the resurrection, Mary. We pray for women who prophecy, for women who weep, for women who watch, for women who act, for women who bear witness and preach the good news of God’s love. Last Easter I was in Sydney. There, it was a radical thing for me to be preaching in an Anglican Church. The diocese does not ordain women as priests and does not encourage the preaching of women. While there, I wrote this Easter poem.
Happy Easter to all of you and thank you for your support.
Chair of WATCH
The Myrrh Bearers
Mary Magdala carried the perfumed oil
and Susanna the basket of sweet-smelling herbs.
The younger women brought the water and the fresh linen.
We gathered in the darkness and followed the lantern light towards the garden.
We spoke only of practicalities.
It was too soon to speak of Friday.
The pain too much, the grief too raw.
We had seen death before
but not like that and not him.
It was Joanna who mentioned the stone
and for a moment we stopped,
wondering if this trip were folly.
It had felt so right to be doing something
to be respecting his body, performing one last act of love.
Mary Magdala, always the confident one, urged us on.
There would be a way, this was a good thing we were doing.
The sun was rising and the garden when we arrived was bathed with dawn light.
I am not sure who saw it first,
the stone that had nearly stopped us, rolled away from the entrance.
We hurried forward eager now to do what we had come to do,
armed with our gifts of frankincense and myrrh.
But, no body was there
the grave clothes neatly folded.
And then one whom I can only describe as an Angel speaking to us.
He is not here he is risen, he is not dead he is alive.
And our feet taking us swiftly back the way we had come to tell the others
He is not gone, He is not dead, He is alive.