At the last four consecrations of female bishops the same objector has asked to voice the same objection. In St Paul's Cathedral last September he was swiftly ushered from the centre as he began to speak; at York last November he was required to remain outside the Minster; at Westminster Abbey in February he was given a microphone to speak; at Canterbury last month the Dean announced during his welcome that the objector would be speaking, and he was given space to speak.
I hope we can now say that his objection has been fully voiced and that from this point onwards consecration services should proceed without his objection being given space.
After the Westminster Abbey consecration, WATCH wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking that such interruptions to the service cease to be enabled. We were assured that such practices were not enabled, but that there could be no guarantee that they would not occur without warning. We understand that.
It is worth noting that this is not like an objection at a marriage service: here, there can be no legal objection to the consecration: the Royal mandate is read aloud under which the consecration MUST take place.
Last month in Canterbury it became clear that such objections were, it seemed, not only being enabled but were becoming a part of the liturgy: the Dean signalled this in his words of welcome. To challenge and subvert this, the Chair of WATCH, in an unplanned and unexpected act, walked out when the objector began to give voice, speaking over him with the words 'I resist this expression of discrimination'. The words used echoed the words of the sermon, where we as a church had been urged to stand up against discrimination, especially in these uncertain times. The words also indicated no personal antipathy towards the objector.
I hope we do not need to rehearse the reasons why enabling such objections undermines the women being consecrated, and indeed all women, and therefore the Church as a whole. But in case we do, here is what we wrote to the Archbishop:
"...such interruptions create the perception that the Church is willing to allow a woman who has been called by God and the Church, and appointed by the Crown, to be publicly insulted and undermined. If that is so, it undermines and insults all women: and especially women for whom female bishops are potent symbols of a radical shift in the Church's treatment of women. 'Maybe things haven't changed at all, underneath', they might conclude."
At the next consecration of female bishops, we hope that things will be arranged differently.
Deans carry the responsibility for what happens within the buildings concerned, so if you wish to add your voice to this hope, please do write to them.
Canterbury Cathedral: Very Rev Robert Willis: firstname.lastname@example.org
St Paul's Cathedral: Very Rev David Ison: email@example.com
Southwark Cathedral: Very Rev Andrew Nunn: firstname.lastname@example.org
York Minster: Very Rev Vivienne Faull: email@example.com
You may wish to copy your letter to the Archbishops and to WATCH firstname.lastname@example.org