Sunday, November 25, 2012

Women Bishops: grief, anger and emptiness

I honestly don't know what to say at this point in the week, and it's going to be very hard to express how I feel. As most of you probably know by now, the vote for women bishops in the Church of England was lost by a narrow margin in the House of Laity on Tuesday last.

Before I heard, I hadn't realised how much it meant to me, and how devastated I would be, and indeed still am. When I heard, I cried, then I was angry at the injustice, and then I cried again. I was working late on Tuesday, and when I came home, I had another bout of tears, angry ones, and then I had two stiff gins (a rare event for me these days) and half a large bag of chocolate.

I think the worst thing was the deep sense of betrayal. I've been a Church of England Christian since I was 17 years old and I'm now 48. In spite of the bickering the C of E often indulges in, I've always at heart trusted it to do the right thing in the end. It did the right thing by women priests twenty years ago, and I assumed that, after the usual shouting matches, it would also do the right thing by women bishops. It hasn't. So I don't feel I can trust it any more.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, I gave some thought to leaving the Church of England and worshipping God elsewhere. The United Reformed Church, or the Quakers came to mind. And I'm still not entirely letting those thoughts go. And, yes, I appreciate that many people are saying that the vote wasn't actually a vote against women bishops as 42 out of our 44 dioceses are for them - it was just our antiquated voting system that was at fault. The fact still remains, however, that today, women are not allowed to be in a position of spiritual or public managerial leadership in the church, and it continues to  feel like a punch in the stomach. No matter what the arguments are.

What have I done since Tuesday? A lot actually, for someone as uncommitted to action as I usually am.

I've listened to the parliamentary debate, found some good news about women bishops in Africa, joined Women and the Church's Facebook Group, and wondered what would happen if all the women who have worked so very hard for the Church of England over the years simply downed tools and didn't do anything at all for even a week. I've written a letter to the Church Times (as has my husband), and another letter to our Diocesan Bishop. His letter about the news can be found at the Diocesan website, and yes I will go to the Emergency Meeting on 11 December in Guildford to discuss the way forward. I'd like my voice to be heard too, thank you.

I have read and agreed with articles about the mess of it all, God as a lover of equality, the need to stop exempting our church from equality laws in all areas, the feminism of Jesus, been ashamed to be part of the Church of England, and rejoiced at the potential knock-on effect in the demand for the justice of same-sex marriage.

I have signed a petition asking for another vote in Synod, and another one asking for the unconditional ordination of women bishops in the C of E (which I can only encourage you to support).

And today and tomorrow, I am proud to be part of the Purple Protest for Women Bishops which is taking place on Facebook.

This morning, to crown the end of a hugely difficult spiritual week for me, I felt very hurt this morning when our vicar said nothing at all about the women bishop vote. Yes, there was a note in the pew slip drawing our attention to the Bishop's letter to the diocese (see above), but it's not the same as just a few words acknowledging the pain and praying for a way forward. It wasn't mentioned in the notices, the prayers or the sermon. As a result, I was near to tears for most of the service and - though I appreciate some people will be shocked - I'm glad that when the vicar came down into the body of the church to shake everyone's hands during the Peace, I refused, politely, to do it. I'm still glad I did that - if I'm not allowed a voice during the service and there's no opportunity to acknowledge pain at the end of a traumatic week, then, no, I'm not at peace with the man making that decision.

At least, however, I did go up for Communion - I think K was pleased that I didn't spit the wafer out onto the vicarly stole (in a Christian manner, of course ...) and I have to admit I was tempted, oh yes. In the end, K and I left during the last hymn as I couldn't face any more confrontation. Though, actually (hush my mouth), anything by the pesky Graham Kendrick doesn't really count as a hymn, does it? When I'm bishop, I'll have Kendrick stopped, as well as providing chocolate (gluten-free if desired) wafers and champagne at Communion. You heard it here first ...

However, in spite of all this, it's nice to know God isn't actually in the habit of kicking people to the side and leaving them (or indeed kicking them at all) as when I got home after church, fuming, there was some lovely words from the wonderful Revd Claire's blog which is, as always, definitely worth a read. Thank you, Claire

Finally, thank you for reading this far (if you have) and this delightful poem says it all:

When I am Ordained, I shall wear Purple

by Mia Smith 

With acknowledgement to Jenny Joseph's original poem

When I am ordained, I shall wear purple
with killer heels and bright red lipstick
And I shall go round preaching from the Bible 
...The liberating truth that Jesus calls women
and tell those who say otherwise that it is they,
not I, who are bad theologians.

I shall sit down with fellow clergy
when we are tired of fighting for equality
and going the extra mile with grace when we are put down,
And we will make up for it:
by encouraging one another as Scripture says,
and praying for those who abuse us,
and rejoicing that we are suffering
(but just a little bit) for Jesus,
And we might even eat some chocolate.

I will adopt the ordination name “Junia”,
and remind those who object,
that there may be a boy named Sue somewhere in the world,
but there probably isn’t.

But now we must face the world,
Who think we are traitors to our sex
For working for the Church
And face our brothers and sisters who think
We are being unbiblical
And face those in our Churches
who have failed to notice the pain this week has brought.
And we will go in the strength of Christ.
We will not turn our backs on our calling
Because God is not finished with the Church,
And He is faithful.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am ordained, and start to wear purple.

Anne Brooke
Gay Reads UK
Biblical Fiction UK
The Gathandrian Trilogy
Lori Olding Children's Author


Pamela Mason said...

I shall wear purple in support of your cause today Anne.

Though I am not in the C of E, I do sincerely believe that Jesus loves a rebel.

Anne Brooke said...

Thank you, Pamela - you look absolutely lovely in it - I can see from here!


Claire said...

It's knowing that there are people like you in ort wonderful tragic funny stupid amazing silly broken loving human church that meant I could keep going this morning. Thanks for being there.
Love Claire xx
PS Chocolate buttons and champagne? Hmmmm.......I have a plan

Anne Brooke said...

Thank you, Claire - I feel exactly the same way about you - thank you for keeping me going this week!



kazzak said...

Very passionate, Anne. If something is so dear to your heart you must do something, and that you are. It is very disheartening to see stodgy attitudes prevail(I'm being G rated). Another way for the CoE to alienate women. I'll say no more!

Anne Brooke said...

Thank you, Karen! I reckon we can be G++ rated if we need to, and really on occasion God prefers it :)

Hugs to you!