Mourning our Infidelity

Elaine Storkey writes: The passing of the measure to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England was not a victory for liberal revisionists in the church. It was the overwhelming sense amongst evangelicals, Catholics, charismatics and liberals that this was now where God was leading our church. The Women Bishops measure would not have gone through the General Synod without the co-operation of many traditionalists. I say co-operation, rather than agreement, because that is what it was.  Opposition remained. For conservative evangelicals it was on biblical and ethical grounds – they felt that scriptural exegesis meant women should not become bishops. For Anglo-Catholics it was on identity and sacramental grounds – they felt that women could not become bishops. But as we went into Synod for the final debate, several Anglo-Catholic friends came to me, separately, to extend a hand of friendship across our theological divide and tell me they were now going to abstain.  I found this gesture of respect and reconciliation very moving. Amongst many key speeches, Adrian Vincent, a member of the Catholic party, shared his struggle with conscience and scripture, as he made the difficult decision neither to vote against, nor abstain, but to vote the measure through in faithfulness to those who elected him. His one caveat was that there should be ‘enough provision for traditionalists to enable them to remain in the Church of England with theological integrity.’

Those who have never struggled with biblical exegesis, or obedience to Scriptural tradition will not understand this. The reality for the rest of us is that it requires prayer and deep discernment to be faithful to centuries of Christian teaching and understanding in the world we live in today. We make our decisions in faith, wrestling in praying and hoping that God’s will, not ours, be done. And we live with the full awareness that we might be wrong. This is precisely why we need each other, especially those whose conscience and discipline is greater than our own. As we affirm, with Luther, ‘Here we stand, we can do no other’ we always need to recognize that those who stand somewhere else might well have deep spiritual insights, which we need to learn from.

Five principles were drawn up to help the church move forward in our call to unity on women bishops. The first principle states that the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally and legally, without reference to gender; the second made it clear that those coming for ordination must accept this.  The clarity of this is indisputable. This measure could not be interpreted as endorsing two integrities, two sorts of calling, two doctrines, two positions pulling against each other.  The church recognized, without ambiguity, that women are called to episcopal office.

The magnitude of this principle cannot be underestimated. A couple of decades earlier, many Anglo-Catholic traditionalists had left the Anglican Church for the Church of Rome after Synod voted for the ordination of women to the priesthood. Yet the 1992 measure had been tempered with an Act of Synod, talk of ‘a second integrity’ and parallel jurisdictions, with the establishment of traditionalist ‘flying bishops’ to support and pastor the opponents. The 2014 measure was stark by comparison, offering only pastoral provision. Those Catholic and Conservative Evangelicals with grave misgivings were given no straws to clutch, no ambiguity to salve their conscience. If they wanted to remain in the Church of England, they had to recognize that women could, and would, be bishops.

The haemorrhage of those who have left on principle since 2014 is small in comparison to twenty years earlier. So why did they stay? Quite simply, it is because they belong. Those uneasy about women in the episcopate remain loyal Anglicans; the Church of England is their spiritual home: the place of their baptism, their worship and their Christian community. But it is also because of the Church’s assurances. This was strongly expressed in another of the five principles, which specifically addressed those who had misgivings about the ‘sameness’ of vocations across gender differences. ‘The Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.’

The selection of Philip North to the see of Sheffield was the first opportunity the church had to manifest its own integrity in upholding that principle. The consecration of ten women bishops has made the other principles a living reality. That is why the events of the last month have been so disquieting.  Enabling people to flourish in the church’s life and structures means enjoying their fellowship and experiencing their leadership. Having been a member of the CNC I know the process of selection of diocesan bishops and no-one takes it lightly.

In Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, they found a leader of proven ability, pastoral care, spiritual insight and episcopal experience. He is a man who could have been trusted to work with enthusiasm and gentle care alongside the women and men – ordained and lay – in his new diocese. He would have continued and increased the commitment to social concern in the Sheffield diocese, supported the work of the Wilson Carlile Church Army centre, and encouraged those struggling in difficult ministries. He would have put all the structures in place necessary for him to be a focus of unity. He would also have brought reassurance and energy to those traditionalists who are not flourishing, but fear they are being slowly squeezed out of the Church of England.

Philip’s appointment was thus a golden opportunity for us to keep our promise and make it a reality. It was also a chance to understand where our unity as a church lies – not in political correctness, in sameness or conformity, but in the love of Christ. It lies in a recognition of the wonderful variety and difference in the gifts God has given us, and in our mutual respect and trust. In being able to affirm the contribution of those we differ from, allowing them to flourish, even at our own expense, we begin to discover how we can be one. Father David Houlding, long-time member of Synod, and once leading Catholic opponent of women in the episcopacy, expressed it well. ‘We have to learn to trust and go on trusting no matter how much it costs….we must not lose sight of the aspiration set before us in the great chorus of the Christian hymn, One church one faith, one Lord. To that end we must continue to work.’

The appalling hounding, vilification and name-calling meted out to Philip North, a faithful brother in Christ has produced a severe set-back to this vision of the Church. It has manifested the same spirit evident in the worst aspects of our culture today – the power of ignorance and the supremacy of intolerance. We have much work to do to separate ourselves from the post-truth, sloganeering, and media-hype of our age. We are in an era of name-calling, where truth disappears within a hundred offensive epithets.

Philip North is not ‘misogynist’ ‘sexist’, or ‘bigoted’ as twitter feed describes him. Nor, as Martin Percy inelegantly suggested, does he represent ‘gender-based sectarianism’ and ‘fogeyish sacralised sexism’. He is a man of conviction and prayer called by God to be a leader in the church. His views on the different callings of women and men are not my views, and I would be happy to continue the debate with him. But that does not, and should not, disqualify him from public respect, or from taking his place alongside other leaders in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in our country today. I am sorry he felt pressured to resign from what could have been a fruitful and forward-looking episcopacy, and regret the emotional and psychological pain he has gone through. But I am even more sorry for the church that is so weakened by failure to keep its word.

I hope the church can learn the right things from this tragic episode, and examine its conscience about the promises we have made. May we resist the canonisation of illiberalism, the creation of new orthodoxies based on intolerance of tradition, and the tyranny of mouthing acceptable slogans. The call of the church today is, surely, to sound a prophetic note of hope to the struggles of a divided and hurting culture. It is not to sink into its mud.

Elaine Storkey is a writer and broadcaster, President of Tearfund, Vice-President of Gloucester University, Ambassador for Restored and Trustee of the Church of England Newspaper. Her most recent book is “Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women”. This article was first posted at Fulcrum.

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47 thoughts on “Mourning our Infidelity”

  1. Hmm.

    To cite the Twitter feed as representative of the sort of feedback and abuse North has come under is incredibly ignorant. It’s Twitter after all, and that’s what it exists to be; a digital school playground for the emotionally immature. The ‘blogosphere’ has tended to be much more diplomatic by comparison, as have the papers (those that understood enough to cover it) openly critical/polemic, but not corssing the line into ‘nasty’. Percy is wrong, but he was not “inelegant”, he knew exactly what he was doing and saying. It would not surprise me if he was the most quoted person on Psephizo outside Peter Ould. His comments found the audience he wanted them to.

    I agree with Jeremy P (above): while North has been the target of name-calling and verbal assault that cannot be justified, the vast majority of criticism aimed at him (and yes, there has been a lot) has been reasonably restrained, and seems to be coming from a place of honest doubt. People (I am one) cannot reconcile his ministry role and his convictions, seeing them as inherently in conflict.

    • I have just checked Twitter for all references to @bpburnley since this blew up. If there have been abusive messages, they have either been direct messages to @bpburnley, or have been deleted (or I have missed them). In none of the public messages available on Twitter now, is he described as ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynist’ or ‘bigoted’. Indeed, for Twitter, this has been one of the more polite arguments I have seen. Of course, all abuse (private or subsequently deleted) is wrong.

      But I would be grateful if a source could be found to back up these quotations.

  2. I was going to point to Jeremy’s very clear response to Elaine Storkey’s piece. Like him I feel feel she misses the point though I am in no doubt this outcome is very, very hard for those who were part of that original debate. But it really does not help to focus on the ‘appalling hounding, vilification and name-calling’ that apparently went on. I have to say I saw none of it. But does it need to be said that where they happened they are inexcusable? The discussion threads I have been following have been at pains to commend the evident qualities and gifts of Bishop Philip, but are asking thoughtful and important questions about the theology and ecclesiology that underpins an appointment like this in the church. I have yet to read any response to these.
    This is the first real test of the Principles – and it is being tested by theology. That is as it should be. And it has raised deep concerns that need properly addressing.
    We might also point out that the CNC process in Sheffield plainly failed in its task to consult the diocese properly. When an appointment produces such widespread shock and bewilderment what is the most appropriate response? Has this ever happened before? I felt the SAME initiative – its tone, courtesy but honest questioning was exemplary. And on their most recent page they urge prayers for Bishop Philip but also says ‘we lament the church’s lack of understanding of the depth of concern which people around the diocese have felt over this appointment.’

  3. Jeremy’s response is deeply inadequate- it doesn’t even mention GS Misc 1076, the entire ‘settlement document’ that the different groups signed up to and which fleshes out what the 5 Principles mean in practice. Has Jeremy even read GS Misc 1076?

    GS Misc 1076 doesn’t just state the 5 Guiding Principles and leave everyone to guess what they mean – it’s a 9 page document that fleshes out in some detail the mechanics of appointing bishops of differing views. From Paragraph 12 Sheffield’s vacancy in see committee had a clear right to veto a traditionalist diocesan bishop if they chose – but they didn’t take it.

    I take David Runcorn’s point that those concerned by +Philip’s appointment were doing so on theological grounds – but what use is any theology, especially in a mixed church like the Church of England, if it doesn’t have the scope to say ‘we signed an agreement and, painful though it is, we must honour it’ ?

  4. Good to get Elaine’s perspective on this, thank you for re-posting it.

    I think she is absolutely right, and those who are defending the opposition to his appointment are totally failing to appreciate the gravity of the betrayal this represents to traditionalists. Their attempts to portray the appointment of a traditionalist diocesan as some kind of unexpected outcome which was not foreseen or tacitly accepted in the agreement on mutual flourishing just reeks of bad faith.

    It occurs to me that we’re seeing quite a bit of anarchy in the CofE right now. What with the House of Clergy rejecting the bishops’ report on same-sex relationships and the rank and file rejecting the synod’s agreement on mutual flourishing, we’re seeing a general breakdown in acceptance of authority for the sake of unity. The common theme of course is an unwillingness among many clergy to compromise on their progressive values – a theme also present in the wider culture which is beginning seriously to threaten religious freedom and the freedom of anyone who holds reservations about the broad direction of modernity. If progressive clergy can’t rediscover a tolerance of dissent from their views, and a proper respect for authority, then this bodes ill for the future of the Church of England.

  5. Peter – thank you but I would reverse your last sentence.
    ‘Of what use is a signed agreement in a mixed church like the Church of England that says “painful though it is, we must honour it” if it is not based on a clear, agreed theological conviction?

    • A good question, David – a theology of difference is something we clearly need. But theology isn’t just about learned articles – it’s got to be lived out, sometimes at cost to ourselves.

      Saying that, I’m very aware as a man and a supporter of women’s consecration I haven’t been bearing the highest cost in this particular case – but as someone who deeply wants the church to improve the its response on human sexuality – albeit approaching things from a conservative direction- I can only look ahead with anxiety. If there’s no prospect of any signed agreement becoming lived reality we might as well all pack our bags on that one.

    • I’d also add that it doesn’t build confidence to see the chair of OneBodyOneFaith offering his full-blooded opinions when he clearly doesn’t understand the agreement that was made.

      • Peter,
        I was writing in my personal capacity. I think your tone is disrespectful, and in being so it is unhelpful. Being rude, dismissive and patronising does not help good listening, and I think we have to listen to each other. I understand perfectly well the issues at stake here, and what GS1076 says. That document is not an “agreement”, as you put it. This notion of agreement is misleading – it implies that a public deal has been done on which some people are now renaging. That may be how it felt to some people who were present in the Synod for that period, but it is misleading to impose that on what was produced.

        GS1076 is a Declaration but the House of Bishops, and that invites scrutiny and questions as to how this is expected to function under real conditions. It seemed to work when women were appointed as bishops – but then as I say the Declaration gives much more attention to how it works that way round It has spectacularly failed in this instance. And I think the difficulties over which Philip North has decided he has to withdraw could have been predicted. But that is the point. No one did, and no one did the work necessary to help overcome them – if indeed overcoming was possible.

        • Dear Jeremy,

          Peter may have been clear and precise asking hard questions of you – but he has not been rude to you and yet you have chosen the classic tactic of pronouncing that the other party is hurtful. No he isn’t. He quoted directly the document GS Misc 1076 and yet you have chosen to avoid that.

  6. This is not actually about progressive vs conservative values. It’s about what to do when a would-be leader cannot acknowledge the ministry of a large proportion of the people they hope to lead- whatever the reason for their inability to do so. It is just an untenable and destructive situation. Like most others, I have acknowledged that +Philip had the right to take the job. But why assert that right in the circumstances- it would just lead to disunity and division. If I was in his position and held some kind of minority liberal view which prevented me recognising a big chunk of my flock, I would not seek to enforce my right to lead them. I wouldn’t say there was a failure of tolerance- I would simply say that my minority view, which I am enjoying the right to hold whilst practicing my ministry free from discrimination, makes me the wrong person to take up a major leadership position. It is NOT a question of a lack of liberalism.

    • Yes it is James. By your logic It would mean that people who hold views like Philip North would never be able to assume positions of episcopal authority making a mockery of the agreement that the Anglo Catholics though would enable then to flourish despite being in disagreement with liberals. Clearly this debacle has shown that they cannot.

      • Why does flourishing have to mean that someone has to be a diocesan bishop? If you have the assurance of proper authority, a properly constituted ministry (according to your lights), and sacraments in which you can have assurance, what more do you need? Philip North already has a position of episcopal authority. If you push that further then you start to make it difficult for others to flourish – and I thoght the whole point of this was for everyone to be able to flourish.

        The 5GPs also make plain that the Church of England is now in a position where it has decided as a whole that women can be priests and bishops. This is the official view. So the other views are minority opinions for which space is made and provision of episcopal authority (to maintain maximal communion and good order) has been arranged – that is why Rod Thomas is a bishop. But it is an error to imagine that all these views have equal weight. Since 2014 they do not.

        • So you are saying Jeremy, that people like Philip North can flourish but can only do so as far as Suffragan level but no further? I hardly think that is what The Anglo Catholics ‘s thought when they signed up to the agreement do you?

          • Chris It is misleading to speak as if there was a detailed agreement that all signed. There wasn’t and they didn’t. That was not the procedure. But we might also note that +Philip and traditionalist A-C’s actually voted against the Five Guiding Principles when they were voted on in synod.

        • Jeremy,

          ‘Why does flourishing mean that someone has to be a diocesan bishop?

          Oh, the irony. Nevertheless, we’ll assume that you’ll support the same kind of flourishing for same-sex married clergy as your post implies.

          So, should revisionism continue to only be supported by a minority of GS, we now know that you would be okay with the kind of radical inclusion which still falls short of putting a bishop, who supports same-sex marriage, in charge a diocese which, on the whole, doesn’t.

          Thank you for clarifying.

  7. Dear Peter,

    I was not writing a review of GS 1076, which I have indeed read carefully. I think it is true of that document that the mechanics, while they can work both ways, are written so as to suggest that the usual way they will be used is to provide for those who would find having a woman as their diocesan bishop difficult for all the reasons that we know.

    While the document can be read the other way I would suggest that this is not the general direction of its travel, and that is why those who want to use it in that way probably needed to do a lot more careful groundwork than they did. You may say that the Sheffield vacancy-in-see committee is to blame, or that the CNC is, but someone somewhere failed to recognise that this way of reading the mechanics was going to pose very significant and difficult theological questions for women and men who do want to see women bishops, and who would feel that their communion with their diocesan was seriously and dangerously compromised by the appointment of a non-ordainer.

    You may think what I have written is inadequate (I am used to dismissive comments), but I am still waiting for the answers to the tough questions that this appointment raised. They could have been predicted, and it doesn’t sound from the report of the meeting that Bishop Philip had with people in Sheffield that he offered an answer. The Archbishops are silent. The matter has not yet been referred to the Doctrine Commission or any other body. Who is going to tell us how a man who does not think that women can be called to the office of priest in the Church of God can realistically be the sponsor of women to train to be and do just that? Who is going to tell us how a bishop can institute vicars and rectors to parishes when he doesn’t think that the sacraments they will distribute to the parishioners are real sacraments? How would such an appointment lead to the flourishing of the men and women who support the ministry of women as bishops, priests and deacons.

    • Thank you for your response, Jeremy. To put things in more generous terms, your article would be very much improved by reference to GS Misc 1076 and especially to paragraph 12. Indeed, by refering to GS misc 1076 you could perhaps have answered some of the questions you yourself raised. An opportunity missed?

      I agree that there are many questions to be asked here – some more existential than others. But how can we possibly build any trust if agreements are all about ‘intended direction of travel’ rather than what’s in black and white? Indeed, is it really right to talk about direction of travel – after all, this wasn’t an agreement with like-minded folk. It was made between WATCH, F in F, Reform et al. These organisations would have had quite different visions of the intended direction!

      • Peter – no this was not an agreement by WATCH et al – it was a legislative package worked out by a Synod working party. That working party had people of different views on it, but they were not there to represent pressure groups.

        • I disagree, Charles. The 16 members of the steering group are listed in GS1926 – 6Z. Looking at it there were clearly a lot of ‘pressure group’ people in the room. It had to have, in order to have the credibility among conservatives to get the vote passed.

  8. In one sense this debate no longer concerns me, as I left the C of E in Dec. 2015, but I know Bishop Philip personally because he stayed in my Rectory at Aberbeeg for several days when he was leading a parish Mission in nearby Abertillery and I would like to say that if + Philip is not fit to be a Diocesan Bishop, I don’t know who is! He is a man who has been blessed by God with outstanding gifts. Moreover, If he is God’s choice for the Diocese of Sheffield, then this was not just a personal rejection of a godly man, but an insult to the one who sent him. This brings to mind some words from St Matthew, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Matt. 10:40, ESV). The implications for those traditional, Catholic-minded Anglicans who have stayed in the C of E post women bishops are very serious; no doubt there will be much soul-searching in the months to come. Were I still in that position, serving in a parish that looked to the PEV for sacramental care, then this would have been a watershed moment for me. Of course, others may see things differently, I know that some Anglo-Catholics take the “No Surrender” approach and will never leave the established Church. However, they can be under no illusion that that they are still full and equal partners in the Gospel, but a despised minority, who are barely tolerated. Perhaps now is the time to consider Mgsr Andrew Burnham’s wise words in the Catholic Herald and seek full communion with Rome.

  9. As an evangelical, who supports the ordination of women, I tried hard to be supportive of those who took other view, both Catholic and Evangelical. I feel betrayed and despair over this. Indeed I think the church has been betrayed.

    It’s as plain as a pikestaff to most of us that appointments such as this were envisaged. I can’t work out how anybody can think differently. All the dredging around in the synodical stuff can’t change this. It’s no more than stirring up the mud and obscuring the view.

    Neither do I believe that appointments of bishops have always faithfully reflected the vacancy in see concerns… until now. That’s not my experience. It would be naive to suggest that previous appointments have always been unanimous or that the casting vote allowed has never been used.

    I’m praying on but what chance of other difficult issues being sorted with these narrow attitudes.

  10. Ordinands can only proceed if they give assent to the Five Guiding Principles, held in tension and not read selectively. Any reading that limits mutual flourishing would bar a candidate from ordination. A sixth guiding principle seems to be creeping in.

  11. Lee Gatiss, over at Church Society web, has a very good piece on the 5 Principles which are not really principles but observations and what Flourishing means – or doesn’t or might or….

  12. Consider the case of a woman priest who has +North as her diocesan. She might consult him for help with any one of the hundred issues that a bishop deals with. And he will help as he always does. That he doesn’t “believe in” her priesthood is irrelevant – either she knows she is a priest, or else she doesn’t believe in the ontological nature of priesthood anyway, in which case priesthood is just a necessary qualification for her to access the job that God has called her to.

    The only issue would arise for a woman priest who does believe in ontological priesthood but has become unsure of her vocation – if she is beginning to wonder whether +North’s view is actually the correct one. In such a case then yes, +North would perhaps be unable to take a balanced view. But such a scenario must be pretty uncommon. And equally, any bishop of whatever personal convictions will recognise that there are a few situations where their personal traits mean that they will do better to refer the enquirer to someone else.

    Even in a world where all clergy and bishops were men we would have bishops who believe in ontological priesthood supervising clergy who don’t, or vice versa, and they would have to rub along somehow.

    I conclude that +North is as suitable to work as a diocesan bishop as anyone else.

    • Jamie The Church of England ‘is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender’. Given that is the case I do not know why you are addressing women at all here. Their ministry is fully recognised and accepted in the CofE. Logically you should be addressing your comments to those ordained men who are unable to accept this.

  13. A Diocesan is a symbol of Unity in the Church and fidelity to the faith. If that Diocesan does not recognise the ordination of women priests nor the consecration of their sacraments, then they are neither united nor sharing the faith. They are not his priests and he is not their Bishop. I think it was wrong for him to be offered the role, wrong for him to accept, right for many clergy to protest and right for him to withdraw. His ministerial flourishing (if becoming a Diocesan can be described as such) cannot happen at the expense of the ministerial diminishing of women priests. Being a priest is hard enough without having your Bishop not believe you are a priest.

    • A Diocesan is a symbol of Unity in the Church and fidelity to the faith. If that Diocesan does not recognise the ordination of women priests nor the consecration of their sacraments, then they are neither united nor sharing the faith.

      Given the history of the Church of England, this is a ridiculous assertion.

      The distinctive phrase, focus of unity, is derived from the report Episcopal Ministry which emphasized the role of bishop as: ‘a sign and focus of unity and communion’.

      As Paul Avis explained in Becoming a Bishop: A Theological Handbook of Episcopal Ministry:
      ‘Unity, expressed as a harmony of different voices, will commend the Christian witness to the world’

      As the Canberra statement (1991) also explained: ‘diversities which are rooted in theological traditions, various cultural, ethnic or historical contexts are integral to communion’

      It appears that, instead of a focus of unity, you want lock-step uniformity. Guess what? They’re not synonymous.

  14. I note how few women have been represented in the views here. I have no questions about Philip North’s faith, wisdom, intergiry, ability, faith or a whole load of other positive characteristics. However, I as a woman priest would not be able to work under a diocesan bishop who did not believe my orders were valid. That would certainly hinder my flourishing – to know that the one who is essentially my earthly leader (under God, of course) did not even believe that I was properly a priest would be a major stumbling block – it is certainly not irrelevant Jamie Wood. There are no easy answers, and I don’t have any, but I do think there is a distinction to be made between being a suffragan and a diocesan – it is the diocesan to whom we swear allegiance (if that is the right terminology) on licensing and the diocesan with whom we are sharing cure of souls – but if my cure is not valid in certain respects particularly relating to sacraments, how can I be sharing that cure in its totality, whatever I think I am doing? I don’t think flourishing has to mean being a bishop but I can see how those of views opposing mine might feel about what they perhaps see as a ceiling if opponents of women’s ordination can’t be diocesans. No answers, just more wrestling.

    • Thank you Sarah. It is a help to hear your voice and your convictions. Over the years I have conducted a number of ordination and clergy retreats where I have sat and listened to women anguishing between tears and anger over what faithfulness and loyalty means because they are expected to work, flourish and promise obedience to a bishop who will not lay his hands on them and does not believe they are actually ordained at all. No man on this thread or anywhere else will ever know what it is like to live with this. No traditionalist male priest is expected to live with this. I no longer think it acceptable, under some strained/strange notion of ‘mutuality’, that ordained women should be expected to live with it either.

      • Too much of this discussion seems to be based on a perceived need to be affirmed by the man in charge. Why be ruled by others’ erroneous opinions? Let God affirm you, and worry not about the judgements of men.

        Sarah says: ‘If my cure is not valid in certain respects particularly relating to sacraments, how can I be sharing that cure in its totality, whatever I think I am doing?’ The point surely is that you know that your cure is valid, and if you need the affirmation of people then you also know that your Church knows that your cure is valid. What your bishop thinks doesn’t affect this. You are sharing the bishop’s cure because your ministry is valid, as you know and your church knows. This is unaffected by what your bishop thinks on the matter.

        • Will, you are right that it is God’s affirmation that is all important, but I still struggle with the human element of this, in the sense that we are called to work under our bishops, and I believe that is a calling from God. So I shall continue to reflect deeply on what you have said . . . but still with some questions about how God’s affirmation is worked out in the word of human beings. Is my hesitation in being able to totally disconnect from bishops a lack of faith on my part – perhaps, but we are all, I guess, a work in progress

    • Sarah, I too grieve at the absence of female voices from this commentary. Will Jones’ attitude (10.20 am) looks right to me

      However (i) I am male and (ii) as you may have guessed, the entire concept of “orders” and their “validity” (though I understand it intellectually) is foreign to my way of thinking. So for both these reasons you are right to say that I will have difficulty in identifying with you. I can only pray.

  15. What nobody has yet raised, as far as i can see, is the unequivocal shot across the bows this sends to London (the third most senior Diocese after Canterbury and York), who are one of the two most Catholic dioceses in our Church and now have a Bishop to find…

  16. It seems to me that Savi Hensman’s excellent article, ‘Bering Sheffield’s Bishop and the Limits of Inequality’ is far more pertinent than Elaine Storkey’s and goes beyond individuals to the root of the problem. It is well worth a read and can be found at

  17. It seems to me that Savi Hensman’s excellent article, ‘Being Sheffield’s Bishop and the Limits of Inequality’ is far more pertinent than Elaine Storkey’s and goes beyond individuals to the root of the problem. It is well worth a read and can be found at

  18. I agree- Savi’s article is really excellent. I like the analogy with a hospital and what would happen if a doctor did not recognise the validity of women colleagues. As for this ‘it doesn’t matter what your bishop thinks of you’ stuff- get real. Have you ever worked in a job where your boss doesn’t support you? And dressing it up in feminist language -‘you care too much what men think of you’? Pass the sick bucket.

    • No one says it’s ideal. That’s the thing about toleration – it’s no one’s ideal. But you live with it for the sake of mutual respect and flourishing.

      I didn’t say it doesn’t matter what your bishop thinks of you, though perhaps you are quoting someone else. Of course it matters – everyone wants others to affirm them, especially those charged with caring for them. So it is of course a sacrifice to have to minister in a context with less than complete affirmation (though I don’t think there is any doubt that +Philip would do all that was required of him to ensure proper pastoral provision and support for all his clergy). But under mutual flourishing that was a sacrifice that was asked of women clergy, at least in certain contexts, and apparently given though in practice it seems not, for the sake of holding our church together and respecting its traditionalist wing as well its female ministers. Don’t forget that proponents of women’s ministry have won, and that traditionalists too have lost something very precious to them.

      I think the big problem with what you’re saying is that you’re criticising the mutual flourishing agreement itself, which (as James Byron notes) was critical to the measure being passed in the first place. So it’s very difficult to avoid charges of bad faith.

  19. So, supporters of the campaign that pressured North to resign now resort to legalistic parsing of the five principles, exactly the tactic they (rightly) deplore in other areas. It’s using the letter of the law against the spirit of the law.

    We all know that, if General Synod had been told, “Traditionalists will be forever barred from diocesan posts,” equal consecration would’ve been voted down. Mutual flourishing did not include a stained glass ceiling.

      • To clear up an evident confusion, equal consecration = people can become bishops regardless of sex.

        As for the traditionalist view, if trad Anglo-Catholics had gotten their way, there’d be no women ordained. This is wrong, and shouldn’t be returned in kind.

  20. Would it make a difference if +Philip had been appointed as the next bishop of a diocese similar to Chichester? I know it shouldn’t in theory, but would it in practice?

  21. Interesting Storkey article but more or less stopped concentrating when the words ‘political correctness’ suddenly appeared. My reaction is incredulity that the appointing body did not foresee the row.

  22. It has taken 46 responses to get to the good point Ian Harker makes, namely that the process was defective. The Sheffield CNC has been proven to be a disaster, not the first in the last five years or so. The CNC has had a bad run recently. Technically the Sheffield vacancy-in-see committee could not mandate that a non-ordainer not be appointed, but it was entitled to express an opinion on the matter and it would have been a brave CNC not to give that opinion considerable weight. It did not. The CNC could have come to the rescue of the diocese by deciding itself that a non-ordainer would not be suitable, a fact that I believe was entirely foreseeable. It did not. And the diocese and the CNC are where they are. Why is it that these bodies are incapable of exercising judgement alongside discernment? Furthermore, the CofE is stuffed with clergy talent, eminently papabile. Why nominate someone who had only been a bishop for two years, had (through no fault of his own) a controversial past given the fiasco at Whitby, to a diocese with no suitable history to accept such a person (such as Chichester, Blackburn as was, and only very possibly London)? What questions were asked of him at interview? And then we come to the Guiding Principles and the HoB Declaration and the vexed concept of mutual flourishing. Whose mutual flourishing has been diminished? Or is it really a personal question? Since Elaine Storkey first wrote her piece we have learned of the catastrophic news from the Church in Wales. What is it about these bodies? Of course it is not only about process, but get the process wrong and the chances of confidence being lost in the eventual nomination escalates significantly.


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