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Diocesan bishops 'in shock and pain' following women bishops vote

Date: 22 November 2012
The following letter has been issued to clergy and laity alike by the Bishop of Guildford the Right Revd Christopher Hill and the Bishop of Dorking the Right Revd Ian Brackley following the failure of General Synod to pass draft legislation to provide for the introduction of women bishops:

"You will already know that the General Synod failed to reach the required majority in the House of Laity on the Ordination of Women to the Episcopate. This was, in spite of an overall two thirds, and strong majorities in the other Houses, not least overwhelming support in the House of Bishops.

"Some may feel relieved. Most of us, including your two bishops, are feeling deep pain, frustration, and even desperation. I have already received many anguished emails, as has Bishop Ian, who joins me in this letter. The psalms at Morning Prayer on the morning after spoke for many: 'You have counted my groaning; put my tears into your bottle: are they not written in your book.'

"We look forward to meeting any clergy who wish to join us and other senior colleagues in a meeting at the end of November. We also invite all laity who wish to express their views to us to come to a similar gathering on Tuesday, 11 December at 7.30pm, at St Mary’s, Quarry Street, Guildford.

"On the 11th I shall be returning from a two-day meeting of the House of Bishops. We are devoting the meeting to this matter and an assessment of our present situation, and possible ways forward.

"There is a determination in the House of Bishops to continue to work with this urgent matter and not simply to wring our hands. That was certainly also the very definite feeling of the General Synod, in spite of the fact that by the vote in the House of Laity, the one clear obvious way of going forward, with provision, was to say yes to the Measure.

"For the moment, following an informal early meeting of the House of Bishops’ the day after the vote and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to Synod the following morning, I offer the following reflections:

We must brace ourselves for understandable anger

"At the moment we must brace ourselves for understandable anger – bishops spoke about the household china to be thrown around. Polarisation frankly, in General Synod is now much greater than I have ever seen it.

"Even so, recriminations will do nothing to help to find a way forward. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of holding to account the number of offers from those who argued against the Measure to enter into immediate discussions. These must be taken up. "Synod, however, decided not to meet officially as General Synod in February. This is not a matter of a lack of urgency. Rather it will be for General Synod members to use the time set aside in other ways: for example, discussion in small groups and listening to each other to begin to seek a way forward. To revert immediately to quasi parliamentary mode with votes yes and no would simply polarise matters further. The Archbishop of Canterbury wisely warned against much unrealistic expectation about any new simple solution. "I can add my own weight to this from my own experience as Vice Chairman of the Rochester Commission, Chairman of the Guildford Group, and working with its successor, the Guildford and Gloucester Report, as well as my work in the House of Bishops as the Revision Committee took the matter forward through Synod in terms of the now dead Measure. "All this amounts to well over twelve years of detailed working in terms of theology and practical ways forward. For me, I do not see further avenues in which we are likely to achieve agreement. If we go for a long-term solution, in accordance with the clearly stated substantial majority of church people, the likelihood for the future is less structural provision, if any, for those who cannot accept women priests and bishops. "That might have to wait until a new Synod but a considerable number of permutations and variations have been looked at and argued one way or the other. I hope I can be proved wrong on this because we have now what is amounting to a scandal in an increasing proportion of the priests of the Church of England being ineligible for discernment in relation to the episcopate. "Having said the above, those who cannot accept this development will be aware that I have also worked for provision and sincerely believe that what was in the Measure would have provided what they needed. If a solution is to be found, other than the simplicity of a one clause Measure, I shall be surprised if it does not in fact amount to something quite close to that which we have just rejected. "But it must be clear that no provision would be acceptable which creates two Churches and two Episcopates. There was also a groundswell of opinion in General Synod clamouring to hear from the middle of the Church as well as from those who understand themselves to be traditionalist catholics or conservative evangelicals. In the end, however, clergy and laity vote for those they wish to represent them. "At the moment, above all we have the duty to respond to the widespread public perception that the Church of England has dissolved itself and abandoned its mission to the nation. This perception is not wholly journalistic hyperbole. The shock and tears seen on television and in the Synod chamber are shared by many members of the public. Like me, you will all have encountered many ordinary people, church members or not, expressing incredulity over what has happened. "While it is right that our synodical system erects a high hurdle in each House, bishops, clergy and laity for important change, PCCs, deaneries and congregations and above all, women and men in the street will find our decision hard indeed to understand and still less, sympathise with. "For the moment we must all reaffirm our faith that God is still all in all, and that Sunday by Sunday and day by day our parishes will be preaching the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments and offering pastoral care to God’s people. All this goes on in our parishes and it will not be altered, even by the General Synod’s decision. But of course, much of this will happen because of the women priests in our diocese. To them I particularly want to say that Bishop Ian and I value your priestly ministry highly and we share your shock and dismay. "Should you wish to continue this conversation, please come to the meeting noted above. "Yours sincerely, but also in a state of shock." Bishop Christopher Bishop Ian

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