Friday, 16 October 2015

I have more questions than answers

I have more questions than answers
Synod, equality and anger…….

I haven't blogged in a long time but feel the need at this point in time as the recent General Synod results have stirred some emotions as well as the general reactions from some quarters.

Rachel has done some interesting research (link: into those who stood and the result of elections. This coupled with what's been stirring within my head for a while. 

A few years ago, in November 2012, I witnessed the dreadful debate in Synod and subsequent vote on moving toward consecrating women bishops. From the 'no' camp there was argument that measures to protect them hadn't gone far enough. Then, thankfully in July 2014 with a new set of proposals the vote passed with the required majority across the three houses. 

I think that many think that that's it now. The fight has been won and we can put our 'A women's place is in the House......of Bishops' tea towels in the bottom drawer. But that couldn't be further from the truth. 

How many dioceses have yet to appoint women to senior positions let alone appoint a woman bishop? How many dioceses have returned representatives that reflect any sort of equality? I think we can count on one hand those dioceses where one house has more women than men. I know that there are a good many dioceses that do have someone in a role that is there specifically to promote and encourage women's ministry but what real power do they have as long as nothing tangible happens?  

You see the problem is that for 2000 years the church (whatever 'church' it is doesn't matter) men have been at the top and been taking the decisions. It has been the norm to turn up to meetings and see very few women. The language the CofE (and I speak of the CofE because that's my tradition) uses legally is male. And that doesn't seem to be changing any time soon. The 'bible' for running a church; 'Church Representation Rules' uses wholly male language. Have any steps been taken to change since women have been ordained priests and therefore been incumbents? I suspect not.

And when women make a fuss about this sort of thing they're accused of being 'feminist' and 'argumentative' but actually it shouldn't be just women who are kicking off over this. It should be all of us. It's not about being a feminist or argumentative. It's about acknowledging that we are all equal in the sight of God and that should be reflected in absolutely everything we do. 

We all have to make a conscious effort to address the imbalance. I don't like 'quotas' or 'targets' but may be we need some. May be we need to be more explicit. May be we need some positive discrimination for a while. But to be honest, I’m not convinced by that particularly because it won’t be men taking the flack for it – it will be women, and the women I know don’t (quite rightly) want to be seen as ‘token’ women to fulfil some sort of quota somewhere. From the top down, more responsibility must be taken for talking about and taking action to ensure equality.

Before ordination I worked for an American Company that had a strong stance on the promotion of diversity. There were structures in place to help women gain promotion and senior roles, along with other sections of society - because it recognised that the industry wasn't equal and therefore it needed to be explicit in its intentions and be counter-cultural. People were in the roles through merit but everyone with ability was given an opportunity, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, colour of skin etc. Oh, how as a church do we shout that we need to be counter-cultural so often. But only when it suits us. 

As a church we need to wake up and smell the coffee. Equality didn't ride into town that July day with that Synod vote. Equality is miles away. And until we have parity and a fair gender balance we need to keep challenging and fighting. And it shouldn't be just up to those affected. It shouldn't just be up to the women. It's up to all of us; but particularly men because like it or not, we still hold more power and have a greater chance of being listened too, whether we like it or not (and I hate it). 

I will keep on shouting and fighting and asking the questions until I breathe my last. But I hope that before that last breathe we wake up and progress toward equality faster than we have done up until now. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Synod - a week in reflection

I've not blogged for a long time and realised that there are thousands of blogs kicking around post-synod, but thought I'd throw this one in for good measure. I'm afraid this isn't some deep and meaningful theological or academic reflection, it's just a splurge of thoughts........hope that's ok with you all.

It's almost been a week and there's been so much kicking around in my head. I've shared my angst, anger, tears, hopes etc with a few close friends but have also felt the need to retreat into myself to try to work things through too.

Last Tuesday has been well documented. The vote for the measure that would have led, if passed, to the consecration of women to the episcopacy. In other words 'allowing' women to be bishops. And whilst the church shouts and gets red in the face about the fact that it has agreed that women 'can' be bishops, to most people, they don't 'get' that (quite rightly in many respects) and so as far as they are concerned last week's vote was about whether women could or couldn't be bishops.

To state my stance from the start, I think women should be bishops and without any sort of condition or provision; there shouldn't be anything in place to make anyone in ministry feel second class, not quite there, not valid etc. To be honest, I do struggle to be 'generous' to those who are not in favour in terms of provision made for them.

I travelled to London on Tuesday my own to show my support and solidarity with my female colleagues and for all those who support the measure as well as being able to see, hopefully, first hand, the synod in action and to hear what people had to say in debating the measure. I was surprised how emotional I found the day as well as struggling with it too. I had to leave the afternoon session early and as a result followed the rest of the debate via social media, just hoping and praying that the vote would go the 'right' way.

It didn't

And so, as I walked home, I sobbed. It hurt. The church I wanted to be proud of had let me down. Let colleagues down. Let those we minister to down. And I struggle to understand how and why.

As a man, I felt stuck in a bit of a no-man's land (possibly not the best phrase to use!). I'm in favour - very strongly in favour - passionately so - and hurt enormously that men can be bishops but the talented, amazing and saintly women whom I work beside cannot at the moment. That really hurts. And last week really hurt - it still does.

I know that I can't ever even start to understand how it feels to be an ordained woman and the pain of last week's vote or understand the pain over the years of ministering in a church where there are people who don't value or consider valid one's ministry. I will never know what that feels like, and that also feels very painful.

Toward the end of last week an email was sent to women clergy within the diocese from one of our DDOs who was having an 'open house' on Friday for anyone who cared to pop in. I thought twice about going as I wasn't sure how 'welcome' a man would be; but decided to go as I had felt very isolated and was hoping that I could express how I felt and hear how other felt. I'm very glad I did. Whilst I was, for the time I was there, the only man, I was made very welcome, was able to listen and be listened to and to share in tears, anger, conversation and affirmation and it helped. It didn't take any of the pain or anger away, but I am so very glad I could go.

And then yesterday the whole thing came back again as the results of the individual votes were published. There was the expected House of Bishops and Clergy division of votes - no surprises there, but the real hit between the eyes was the House of Laity vote from the diocese representatives. Six voted against the measure and one for. What a kick in the teeth that was. This diocese. I know it's not as simple as saying 'our votes made all the difference', but that what it feels like. It really does. And it makes me feel sick.

I don't know what the solution is, but I want some answers.

I want to know when; when my sisters in Christ will be treated equally, when we as a church will have ministry and leadership in total equality; when those who have an episcopal vocation are able to realise it and what the church, my diocese is doing about it.

I keep returning time and again to the prayer I referenced at the beginning of Tuesday and which has been on me since from Br Roger of Taize:

'God of all mercy, you bury our past in the heart of Christ and you are going to take care of our future.

Gather everything that happens, trivialities included, without reservation, regret or nostalgia, in inexhaustible wonder. Set out, going forward one step at the time, from doubt toward faith, not worrying about the impossible ahead. Light fire, even with the thorns that tear you.'

And to conclude, some wise words from Brooke Fraser......'flags' (click here)