Thursday, 7 February 2013

"Participant observers": the strange concept of 'honorary bishops'

The new standing committee of the House of Bishops - apologies to Sir John Tenniel 

As reported by Anglican Mainstream, the House of Bishops of the Church of England [here] will implement changes to its future meetings so as to ensure that the magical number of eight "senior women clergy" will be allowed to participate in all meetings of the House and of its standing committee.
"...Following the discussion with the working group, the House went on to consider issues arising from its current all male membership. It decided that until such time as there are six female members of the House, following the admission of women to the episcopate, a number of senior women clergy should be given the right to attend and speak at meetings of the House as participant observers. The intention is that eight members would be elected regionally from within bishops’ senior staff teams (that include deans, archdeacons and others). The necessary change to the House’s Standing Orders will be made in May..."
We are often hectored by theological liberals (and those generally who have no idea of how a real Christian Church should conduct its decision-making) about the need for more 'democracy' in the Church. Democracy in its only civilised form includes a certain healthy and unwavering respect for structures and procedures, including the need to establish a degree of consensus on controversial issues (yes, I know, tell that to the present Government,)  something which, in turn, goes a long way to ensure respect for  the rights of everyone who participates in the process, most particularly those of minorities. It would seem that by pre-empting a new synodical vote in this way, the C of E has instead chosen the path of  'Cuban democracy,' a system where there is no chance of a vote ever going the 'wrong' way.
So, what, then, are the qualifications for being a member of the Church of England's House of Bishops? Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world of modern Anglicanism. Welcome to the Mad Hatter's tea party.


  1. I we will have women in the House of Bishops one way or another, and while we are at it, why don't we call them Bishops designate so at the first possible moment we can confirm them in their episcopacy. I some times think, Father, that the CofE has taken complete leave of it's senses.

  2. Joseph Golightly8 February 2013 at 07:59

    No concept of Episcopacy or priesthood (isn't that something about Apostolic?) It is going to be a far tougher ride for those who sail in the good old CoE. Is it catholic? Is it protestant? Is it indeed Christian?

  3. There is something distinctly odd about this process. The facilitated discussions which one would expect to achieve an accommodation acceptable to all are blown apart by the statement from the Chair of WATCH in which she claims that the Holy Spirit was responsible for the lost vote in Synod because it provides a second chance to concede nothing instead of what little was on offer:
    "In recent months people have been asking: how was the Holy Spirit working among us last November? Does God after all wish us to limit the ways in which women serve him within the Church? Is this a sign that we should be making yet more provision which excludes and marginalises women? I understand these events in a different way. What we were preparing to do was wrong and would have contributed to the suffering and misery of yet more women, to the ongoing dislocation of relationships between the sexes, and to the ills of society. I believe that we were prevented by the Holy Spirit, for which I thank God. I believe we have been given a second chance."
    Would you 'Adam and Eve' it!

    1. This change to the (non-voting) composition of the House of Bishops, given the known views of those senior women clerics most likely to be appointed, can only reduce the likelihood of any legislation put forward being acceptable to traditionalists of either tradition. If this is an attempt to get everyone 'on side' prior to the next vote, I fear that it will seriously backfire.

  4. When will the slogan change? "Episcopally led, synodically governed." It wasn't really true before, but there is not even going to be a pretence of it now.

    "Led by a committee including some bishops, synodically governed." Not quite as catchy, is it. It's also lacking in apostolic approach.


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