Supporters of women bishops gathered in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, on 6th February to pray for the decisions of the General Synod and to urge forward a process that has so far taken 12 years. They heard a panel discussion on the prospects for women bishops in the Church of England, followed by a service which culminated in a procession to the steps of Church House, where they prayed in silence as General Synod members arrived for the start of their meeting. There were four debates on the issue of women bishops after which the Synod sent the legislation to the next meeting of the Synod in July 2012, when the final vote will be taken.
WATCH (Women and the Church), who organised the event, had invited two female bishops from other parts of the Anglican Communion to describe how they work with parishes who will not accept their ministry. Bishop Geralyn Wolf has been Diocesan Bishop of Rhode Island, in the United States, for 16 years. Bishop Sue Moxley has been a Bishop in Nova Scotia, Canada, since 2003. Both of them have good relations with the parishes who cannot accept them taking Communion services or confirmations: both of them invite other (male) bishops to perform those functions in the parishes, and both of them are invited to other events – celebration services, jumble sales, harvest suppers, and other meetings. In this way trust is built and friendships across different views are established.
Bishop Peter Price, of Bath and Wells, admitted that ‘there is no plan B’ if the legislation fails at its final hurdle in July. Even those opposed to women bishops are keen to conclude the debates and move on. Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, said that Members of Parliament cannot believe that the issue is still being debated. ‘What is the problem?’ they ask.
Bishop John Gladwin preached on the temptations in the wilderness to hold on to the past, and to want the change without the cost. “Human and ecclesial history is littered with pillars of salt”, he said. He reminded people that everyone involved in this issue is wounded, and that the grace of God binds us all together, so that we must not build walls between us that will stop healing happening.
Over 250 people attended the event, including many long-standing campaigners for women priests, young women clergy, and a large number of men: this is not now a women’s issue, it is an issue of vital importance to the mission and credibility of the whole Church.