Norwich Bishop takes stand on women bishops
2009: A strong supporter of allowing female bishops within the Church of England, the Bishop of Norwich nevertheless voted against a motion at the Church’s General Synod on February 11, which aims to take the legislation forward for more revision. The motion was passed by 281 votes to 114. Here is what Bishop Graham told the Synod - why in conscience he felt he had to vote against the legislation as it now stands.
The Bishop of Manchester and his group have served this Synod with great distinction. Their reports have been consistently lucid. They have worked carefully at the implications of what we have asked them to do. I am very grateful to them. A consequence of their work is that I am now much clearer about the implications of the proposed legislation. With regret, I will vote against the motion before us.
God has very clearly blessed the ministry of women as deacons and priests in our Church. I believe women should be ordained to the episcopate. But what I see before me in the proposed legislation is an episcopate so damaged and fractured as scarcely worthy of the name. I cannot see what amendments would render this legislation satisfactory.
It is disturbing to read a draft Measure intended to enable women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of God where nearly all its provisions laboriously illustrate ways by which their ministry can be avoided or not recognised. I realise this mirrors the Measure which enabled women to be ordained as priests. But from the beginning we did not permit Resolutions A and B to be passed in a benefice where a woman had been appointed as the incumbent. The proposals here would enable parishes to petition for a complementary bishop where a female diocesan had been appointed. This has serious consequences for episcopal ministry itself, and not simply for the woman bishop concerned. It cuts much deeper than is the case for male bishops like myself in relation to the Act of Synod at the moment.
What makes this worse is that opponents of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate on ecclesiological and theological grounds do not and will not find the provisions before us satisfactory. Those who oppose this Measure for principled ecclesiological reasons may well leave us for another Communion. We will then be left with provisions simply protecting those who don’t like women in ministry. We risk not just schism but a misogynist’s charter. And the more bereft we become of those who believe the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic the more we will be pressed into making provision for a variety of people with different convictions who would like bishops made in the image and likeness of their own opinions, whatever their gender. We are courting deeper schisms than we recognise in the provisions before us.
But there is another reason why I shall vote against this Measure today. It may be simply personal to me and I may well have misjudged the movement of the Spirit. That could easily be the case. But I do not sense either in myself or in many other supporters of the ordination of women the leap of joy in the heart which should accompany God doing a new thing among us. It was palpable at the time when the proposal to ordain women as priests was being debated, despite all the tensions and difficulties. I do not discern now the same sense of delight and eager anticipation of what God may do through this proposed legislation. That, I believe, is because the means we are choosing are likely to defeat the ends.
I believe God will show us a better way. We may have to wait. We will continue to have our arguments about whether this is an appropriate development in the apostolic ministry. I am sure, however, that if the episcopate is to be a gift of God’s grace to women, and the whole Church, we must do more to treasure what we believe – that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.