A request to WATCH members for comments and reflections on their experiences and feelings following the failure in November of the draft legislation to allow the consecration of women as bishops yielded 71 responses from across thirty dioceses. These responses were from women and men, lay and ordained, though the substantial weight of those who responded were ordained women (37 responses). Some of these were quite lengthy, and it is noteworthy that several were from clergywomen young in ministry (2nd or 3rd year curates). A couple of contributors identified themselves as ordinands.
A number of common themes emerge from the responses. People speak of their hurt, confusion, pain – emotional and physical, anger, bewilderment, weariness, ‘deep depression’, and sheer disbelief in the wake of the vote. Many clergywomen question their authority to preside at the eucharist and the very foundations of their ministry, some very long-standing ministries. Several wrote that they are now considering seeking jobs outside ministry.
There is a real sense of uncertainty as to whether people (male, female, lay, ordained) can continue in, and support (or collude with) an institution which behaves thus, and one contributor expressed a common feeling that the Church of England has forfeited any right to speak on matters of justice, asking ‘On what basis can I challenge injustice when my church has institutionalised it?’. Another spoke of feeling that her soul had been made the battleground for the fight over the place of women in the church. Many contributors express a disillusion with the the church, and her systems and processes, and a weariness at having to explain over and over again to uncomprehending parishioners, friends and colleagues how this can possibly have happened. One contributor noted that everyone he had met ‘is either despondent or angry or both’. He articulated a widely expressed sense of hopelessness, a feeling that we have gone backwards.
A number of contributors commented on how difficult it had been simply to get on with it, but how they had felt obliged so to do. One said that this contribution was the first occasion on which she had expressed how she felt about the Synod vote. For some, this ‘silencing’ compounded the hurt, anger and disillusion resulting from the vote.
The solidarity of many in and out of the church has been noted, and the ‘extraordinary wave of support’ that has developed since November was remarked upon by more than one contributor. The support of parishioners, colleagues and diocesan senior staff has been heartening for many (though not universal), but the support outside the church is two-edged: on the one hand, people recognise women clergy as ‘normal’ and do not understand what Synod did; on the other, as one young woman put it, ‘this decision has made the church look outdated, irrelevant, and just plain weird.’. There is no question in the minds of many, many contributors, that this has damaged the church’s credibility materially, and made the mission of the church and the work of ministry just that much harder in every way, and particularly (though by no means exclusively) for the clergy women on whose ministry much of the Church of England depends.