Hallo again to all.
We work hard each week to avoid saying much in this space about synods, conferences, councils and conventions. Information about these regular events is available in many other places online, and our engagement with church history makes it almost inevitable at each precipice of crisis that we say to ourselves 'Oh dear, that's just like the Sacheverell Trial in 1710', or 'I thought we sorted this very problem in the Diocese of Maryland in 1815', or 'I need to read the proceedings of the 1952 General Convention again just to be sure that we already went on record about this.'
Usually we're right, and the crise du jour is a re-presentation of the same old dish with new relish. Last week's General Synod proceedings in the Church of England—most especially the failure of a measure for the consecration of women as bishops—pull us out of our usual stance and in the direction of comment.
Having watched the pace and quality of English deliberation about women in ministry—since 1845 for sisterhoods, 1862 for deaconesses, 1985 for deacons, 1992 for priests, and 2000 for bishops—we are sorry to say that we were not surprised at the outcome last Tuesday. It is cold comfort to write that this is a blink of an eye in the calendar-measured time of the Church's life, but that is still true. All of the progeny of Anglicans Online's production staff are daughters, and we feel confident that the Church of England will see its way to making them eligible for election to the episcopate in the near term. When that church does so, it will be with an even clearer mind than that manifested by the super majority we observed last week. (Despite the significant margins of difference in voting among houses of the tricameral legislature that is General Synod, such a landslide would be the envy of any secular politician outside of Belarus or the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China.) Mother Julian teaches us that all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well, and she is right, even in what appears to be an ecclesiastical disaster for many both within and without the Church.
One of the things we observed last week that troubled us the most was the tenor of some comment by Canadians and Americans—two groups of Anglicans who bristle when non-Canadians and non-Americans criticise decisions made by their church bodies—about General Synod's decision. Social media erupted with fury about the failure to approve the measure for women bishops, but it did so in some ways that underscored for us just how poisoned our churchly conversation has become:
The short-burst medium on its own trivialises the seriousness of the matter at hand, but so does the arch, half-humourous subtext. We express in humour things we mean but can't say out loud for reasons of comfort or propriety. The ensuing laughter, re-sharing, re-tweeting, and 'liking' cover up discomfort, and allow commenters to make points they wouldn't always with a straighter face.
The ecclesiology implicit in comment like this has bought and swallowed the lies of schismatics about the best courses of action when we disagree. The cluttered ecclesiastical landscape of North America—with splits within splits, and the wreckage of overseas intervention on every horizon—is easy proof that sending bishops who agree with us to another province is not a way to effect good change. The deep erosion of trust experienced by some persons in our communion in recent years is further fruit of the attitude that treats groups who are by our lights mistaken as fit objects for missionising. And the notion that exporting women bishops from North America to England would be salutary is as reductive as it is demeaning to those women bishops.
When the gifts of women's episcopal ministry are recognised officially in England, as we know they will be in time, we hope that that acceptance will be the good development of healthy processes of decision-making—and that the communicants of provinces where that ministry is already welcomed will have the good sense to say goodbye in the meantime to the childish things of religion as an import-export business whose methods are border-crossing and whose objects of trade are women in holy orders.
See you next week. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. We have only to do our parts in learning the lessons of the recent past and the distant past, and applying them in wisdom to the present.
* For a more constructive model of shortspeak, see the archbishop-designate:
21 Nov Justin Welby - @Bishopofdurham
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