Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Women bishops legislation and the presence of God

I didn't hear this news until on my way home at gone six thirty, which is a daft time to be coming home when you've been up since six, but that's another story. I wasn't conscious of anything other than a profound relief that for quite some time now I have considered myself very much a child of God but not really a member of the Church of England. I attend church services in the same way that I attend Quaker meetings; I am not a Quaker, but I am happy to worship alongside. My main dilemma is whether I should continue to be an attender in the Church of England when I feel so uneasy with the discriminatory attitudes that are institutionalised in the church as a whole. I honestly don't know. I go because the church I attend is a place where I feel the presence of God, I like the people, I enjoy the hymns, I benefit from the preaching. The last time I left the church, I did find it was more of a struggle to maintain my faith and my walk with God.

But I have my Quaker worship now, and although I would miss so much about the Church of England,  I have found in the silence of Quaker meetings a strong and sure sense of God. Having to be silent for a whole hour in the presence of others has taught me to move beyond prayer as a recitation or a list (I am a bit of a list person...) and to be still and know God. Quakers do not have creeds or a fixed set  of beliefs. I do not think the believer is less accountable as a result, I think they are more accountable because the accountability is to God and their  conscience, not to what someone tells them to think and do. At the same time, Quaker worship does throw people back on their inner resources and I suspect it works best for those who  already have a strong spirituality. It occurs to me that maybe I am being patronising here - maybe we all have this capacity if we only take time to find it?

 One of the things that I've understood more fully this year is that any religious group is just a group of human beings whether it is Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Quaker. There is no "church of God" because God resides not in structures but in human beings themselves, and certainly doesn't limit himself to human beings of any creed, race or religion. God is not defined by us and yet God  chooses to make his- or her-  dwelling within the human heart. This is the main lesson that my sense of disillusion with the Church has taught me. I think it was a lesson worth learning.


  1. When I was a regular Anglican I never really accepted the ordination of women as priests, so I can’t really say I am sorry there will be no women bishops.

    Now I am on the outside looking in - and I’ve no regrets about that either.

    I suppose it is really an issue of:

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference....

  2. I think it is outrageous that women aren't already bishops and appalling that the vote failed. I think those opposed are either rather strange or deficient in heart, head or both. We will get women bishops one day (in Sentamu's lifetime...)but for me and many others it will be too little, too late. However, there is little point in bitterness over this issue. It isn't a healthy emotion and flogging a dead horse is futile. Time to move on.

    1. Trouble is, there are many thousands of us who are unable to move on. And it matters even to those who are not members of the Church of England. We are an established Church, part of the warp and weft of this nation (especially the warp...). It affects all of us that women are not represented among the Lords Spiritual in Parliament, because that voice is missing from our legislature.

      So we can't just ignore what has happened. But I'm actually hopeful, because I think this might provide the impetus for the reform of hte C of E wh ich it so desperately needs.

      Iffy Vicar

    2. I do know that some can't move on. I spoke to another vicar on Tuesday who now wants to resign but needs to find other employment and prospects first. A very sad situation and I'd advise anyone in that position to just wait and see. I think you are right about the possible silver lining/ reform etc. I can't say I'm that hopeful though, if it has taken this long over women bishops and still utter impasse, what hope on the LGBT issue for anything like the foreseeable future? I simply can't be part of it, and that is a source of deep sadness, but I can't see it as the right environment for me at this moment in time.

  3. As I put in an e-mail to a friend (his wife being one of the first women to ordained priest in the CofE in 1994)

    'Don't know what to think about the women bishops' debacle. I find it sad the argument has been reduced to the semantics of 'gender equality'; when the matter is far more complex. Whatever, the whole affair (whatever the rights and wrongs) is yet another malady that handicaps the witness of the Church of England'

    1. I can't see that the matter is that complex. I have listened to the theological objections to women as priests and they seem to me to be based on outdated and deeply misogynistic concepts rather than theology. Of course, throughout history, misogyny has been deeply embedded in a great deal of Christian thought and teaching - so it stands to reason. I can't see it as an excuse or justification though. People have believed all sorts of things and done all sorts of things because of deeply held theological or ideological beliefs - including burning people at the stake, stoning gays to death, endorsing the practice of suttee, believing children are witches. If we think something is morally wrong, I think we should say it is morally wrong, even if it arises from "complex" ideas whether we call them "theology" or not. In any case, all our theology is ultimately an imperfect and human way of creating a rationale around our ideas about God - and also our ideas about ourselves and where we believe power and status to lie.
      I don't care if people believe that God is a large banana in the sky as long as it doesn't lead them to treat others in ways that are barbaric or unjust. I think the way women are treated in the Church of England, though no longer barbaric, is deeply unjust.

  4. I don’t think you have quite got my point – I am not talking about theology (if I’d have meant theology I would have said theology!!) – I’m just stating that reporting it as a gender equality issue belies the far more complex nature of an Established Church.

    Personally, I want schism – I want the Church of England disestablished, I want it to fracture and split officially, instead arguments taking place in a ‘safe arena’ (safe in that whatever the outcome of many debates, the CofE clergy still get their salaries at the end of the day, still get their pensions and the laity still get a minster). Then and only then can individual churches just get on with it. Some will die, some will flourish. To be quite frank, Suem, I don’t really care very much – nor do the vast majority of the population.

    Perhaps this is just another example that demonstrates what a load of b*llocks religion is!

  5. I'm not sure it should be an established church seeing as the vast majority of the population in the UK are indifferent. I tried to talk to my tutor group about it this week - we are meant to touch on current affairs. There was a profound level of indifference and incomprehension - "I don't even want to talk about anything to do with the church", said one. I don't think we'll see out and out schism, if it goes, it will go not with a bang but a whimper.

  6. I had my great niece to stay over the summer, as she had an interview at a London University (yes, grt niece! There is only five years between myself and my niece, so it isn't too surprising that I have a grt neice aged 18 and I'm still on the same side of 50 as you!) (Rachel L. on my Facebook page, if you want a gander).

    On the last day of her visit we toddled around central London - we walked from my college on the Strand along Fleet Street and into the City. At one point she asked me 'What's that big building with the dome?' Somewhat surprised she didn't know, I said that it was St Paul's Cathedral. She asked if it was a church, I said it was, it was a cathedral - she asked me what was a cathedral..?!

    I mentioned this to a friend afterwards and he said: 'We have a generation growing up in a non-Christian society, you shouldn't be surprised...

    Mind you, one of my patients I work with in my palliative care role is 87 and when I raised the issue of religion and spirituality with her (as I do with all my patients) she smiled and said to me that she felt sorry for people who had a religious faith, because 'in their heart of hearts, they must know that it is all nonsense...'

    In fact for the vast majority of people I work with (and remember all are dying) religion is seldom discussed. Yes, a minority have a deep religious faith, but in the main, most aren't interested and even a life threatening diagnosis doesn't provoke an interest. The only real difference I notice is that people with a deep faith (regardless of religion) are more likely to have life extending treatment that impinges on the quality of their remaining life - academic studies have also seen shown this to be the case.

    Yet I think commitment to a religion has always been a minority sport in England - the 1851 census records around 50% of the population regularly attending church - by 1900 this had dropped to around 25% and it should be remembered that the proportion of Anglicans was much smaller. How an Established Church has survived so long is a mystery, really!

    When Charles becomes King will be the great shake up. Lizzie is sensible enough to just keep her trap shut and not interfere, Charles on the other hand lives under the misguided belief that he matters and that his opinions count for something. I foresee trouble ahead...

  7. We do live in a very secular society, I actually prefer it that way because I think human rights generally are more likely to flourish when religious systems and institutions have less power and control. Sad, but true. I actually believe Jesus was fairly anti-religion, I'm pretty sure he would be overturning a few tables at General Synod and maybe denouncing the Pope...
    However, although I can understand the hostility of a secular society to some of the excesses of religion, I also think it a great shame that faith is viewed with suspicion and not valued as a gift. I don't care for a bitter and arid atheism any more than I care fora bitter and arid religiosity. In fact they are different sides of the same coin. A colleague of mine was very anti-Christian, but I was amazed when another colleague, who had known him for ages, told me he was once a born again Christian - and a very dogmatic and unforgiving one at that!
    It is not true that all people of faith are deluding themselves or have religion as a "crutch" any more than it is true that all atheists have hardened their hearts to God or have no reason to be moral(some of the rubbish you hear some christians spout.) The fact is that none of us really knows the answer to some of the deeper questions about our existence and why there is even anything. Archbishops, priests, professors, devout believers, atheist - none of us really knows. If we all accepted that, it might be a lot better. We are all in the same boat of trying to understand and live our lives meaningfully, whether that involves a belief or none.

  8. Yes, one of my dislikes concerning Richard Dawkins is the fact he presents his positivist worldview as a credo - when science itself relies on a good deal of 'luck' for many of its advances. Many scientific breakthroughs have been fortunate accidents, rather than the driving force of objective positivism.

    I want to live a society where there is room for everyone's beliefs - even ones that I personally find repugnant or plain bonkers!

  9. I think Dawkins is a bit extreme - but then society has always had those who will articulate a more extreme position, and maybe we need that as an antidote before we can find a moderate middle ground. I do think that views which incite violence should be suppressed though.