General Synod's recent decision about women bishops.
I have been reflecting about the further steps taken in the General Synod this week towards the ordination of women bishops. The Methodist Church has long seen it as important that the leadership and oversight of the Church is enriched by the ministry of women as well as that of men in all parts of the Church’s life and therefore in all forms and aspects of ministry, lay or ordained. The ministry of women is part of Christ’s gift to the Church and, through the Church, to the world. The controlling scripture is “in Christ there is no male or female” [Galatians 3:28]. Even those British Methodists who do not like the idea of having bishops are likely to think that a Church which does have them should allow women to exercise the role as well as men. So Methodists are likely to rejoice at the progress being made.
At the same time it is agonising to watch and stand alongside Anglican sisters and brothers as they struggle to find ways of remaining together in unity when matters of deep conviction divide them. We are in covenant with all parties to this debate, even those with whom we profoundly disagree or who profoundly disagree with us. The matter raises important questions of how Christians can live together with contradictory convictions and continue to worship and participate in mission with each other. That really tests our praying for Christian unity. It is, of course, also a phenomenon we have to face within our own Church as well as between Churches.
We can understand the concern which appears to be reflected in the Synod’s votes on various proposals and amendments that if women are appointed as bishops, their authority should not be undermined by alternative arrangements being put in place. But at the same time that very emphasis re-enforces the idea that the diocese is the primary manifestation of the local church. This is increasingly said to us by Anglicans. The weight of Anglican understanding about the Church is on the diocese and the local parish. For Methodists it is the local church for worship and fellowship, but it is the connexion and the circuit in so far as the provision of ministry and resources for mission are concerned. Moreover as a gathered church we do not have the same relationship to territorial jurisdiction. So although we do not approve of the reasons why some alternative patterns of oversight were being canvassed in the Church of England, those actual models might provide a way in which Methodist can mesh more fully with traditional Anglican structures.
Finally, now that the Church of England is on the move about women bishops, there may be pressure on Methodists to consider accepting the historic episcopate. These were not “tit for tat” demands on each other in the lead up to the Covenant, but people have often acted and talked as if they were. But that is another story!