It’s often said that Anglicanism lacks coherence, how, for example can you have a church which ordains women in which there are people who don’t agree with that? The answer is simple and an example of Christian witness. Those who remain within the Anglican communion do so because they see it as their church, and they do not see the issue of the ordination of women as a cause for a break in communion. This is because the church exists because God acts, and he acts not because of what we do or do not do. We did not invent the church, it is given to us as our means of participating in his eternal reality. In which case it is a sign of Grace that those who were on opposite sides of the debate have theologically commited themselves not simply to tolerate each other, but to get beyond that and, in prayer and mutual communion, to pursue ‘mutual flourishing.’
Looked at that way it seems obvious. What else is a Christian to do? Those who could not, in all good conscience, commit to this left, and those of us who stayed regret their loss, for they are a formidable and Godly group. The rest of us followed what Paul said to the Ephesians, deciding ‘with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
The Anglican communion offers itself an example, for good or ill, who yet knows, to see whether a church can cohere with such different views in it. Naturally at both ends of the spectrum there are those who cry “fudge!” What they really mean is that they’d like their view to have prevailed. I know women (and some men) who think that anyone who doesn’t accept the ministry of women should be driven from the church, and I know those on the other side too. But for most of us the 2014 settlement is one we want to see work. For me there are good arguments both way, and by tradition I was sceptical but in the end convinced by those arguing for it; the example of some of my female friends helped, as it was as clear to me as anything that it was the Spirit leading them. Some of us believe the resulting settlement has something to teach all churches about the reconciliation of relationships in the love of Christ.
There’s a caricature put about in terms of women in the ministry, that they are bra-burning feminists (did anyone really do this, or is it an urban myth?) with a liberal agenda. I can’t speak for those in the Catholic Church, but those I know in my own church are a mixed bag, and at least as many of us are in the catholic tradition, emphasising the corporate and the sacramental. The church is a human society founded on the life of the Trinity in which as Alison Milbank put it, ‘our worship bears witness to God’s holiness and the call to become holy.’ We think it important that this long tradition in our church plays its part alongside the evengelical tradition.
Indeed some of us don’t think the two are in conflict. I’m far more worried about the emphasis on managerialism and conversion strategies which seem not to see the parish as central to mission. Mission comes from the gift of our life to God and the growth in personal holiness, from work at parish level. These are the people with whom God has placed us in all our glorious diversity. At its best, good managerialism is rooted in that recognition. I often hear people, especially now, saying that “we” are the church and “we” don’t need buildings. We are, but we do. Places hallowed by those who came before us in the faith, are there for all. It’s one of the great things about the Church of England, we’re there for all who want us.
Trying to concentrate on the work God wants us to do locally is, for most of us, the task at hand. Part of that task is to take forward his word in unity. Women have always been good at reconciliation and healing, and in my wide experience, women’s ministry is a blessing to the Anglican church. Whether any other church will find that example one it would follow, who knows? I am glad not to be in a place where people spend time examining the obiter dicta of bishops in an hermeneutic of suspicion, but in one where generosity of spirit prevails. In my beginning is me, and the one soul whom I can hope to convert with God’s Grace is mine, and outwith that, if I can be of service then that’s all I want. The rest, well some thoughts are too high for me, and I’ll get on with cleaning up the church after yesterday’s socially-distanced Mass – and in this heat that’s a penance!
God bless you all!