Monday 21 June 2010

If you want to get ahead get a hat

I return from a very busy week hosting Indian visitors, among other wonderful experiences too absorbing to allow time for blogging, to find great convulvulus in the Blogosphere over what some are already calling Mitregate.

Now that the Murdoch paywall has, tragically, cut Ruth Gledhill out of the conversation, the best source of information is Maggi Dawn.

This bizarre story indicates, as has been told, that unlike previous visiting female bishops from the US, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was banned from wearing a Mitre in Southwark Cathedral. Forrest Gump’s mum used to say, stoopid is as stoopid does, and the whole mentality of such a request, if it was ever made, is profoundly stoopid. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy. It bears the fingerprints of blind officialdom rather than the Archbishop himself.

I’m an optimist, however, and can see positive learning from such loonery:

  1. The C of E has a lot of getting real and growing up to do. Seeing the problem presented in a stark form presents a good opportunity to recognise it and resolve to do better in future.

  2. All God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Jesus Christ, who taught his disciples to say yes or no. Anything else comes from the evil one. The Spirit has always called the church to a form of ministry that was real within the sociology of the world we serve. Therefore we respond to the Spirit’s call obediently, not half-heartedly. The Puritans used to talk about the “Devil’s Martyrs” — people who lost out all round, because they messed with Mr In-Between, depriving themselves of the advantages of being Puritans, or Libertines. Simply framing the Spirit’s call to ordain women in terms of the problems it raises is boring, weedy and faithless, as well as hypocritical.

  3. We’ve been reading recently in Church about Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee. We all have an inner self-important Scribe or Pharisee, and by his fruits ye will know him. Some exceptional people, however, manage on occasion to walk through the inner ring of Scribes and Pharisees with deftness and charity. It’s by doing this, ex opere operato, that such people demonstrate an important theological truth. Although the Church’s outer (institutional) form is rotting away, says St Paul, its inner being is constantly renewed by the spirit. The grace of God makes such things possible, and thus gives hope. What we have to ask ourselves is who, in this admittedly trivial but symbolically loaded tale, has acted in a Christlike way, and how? What do we learn from it?

  4. As a bishop I learn that, loaded with creative potential and myth as my job can be, when all is said and done I am just a driver of the Lord’s Number 49 bus, and the more I can rememeber it’s his bus not mine, saints preserve me, the less likely I am to get too far up myself. This makes me easier to live with, and learning it daily is worth a day of anybody’s wages…


June Butler said...

Splendid post, Bishop Alan. If we claim to be Christians, we must remain ever mindful to whom we belong.

David said...

Thank-you Bishop Alan
for establish a sane context for all this stoopidity,

Thank-you also for
the open-ended hopefulness of point one
the joyous freedom of point two, and
the promise of point three

Mary Clara said...

Wonderful post, Bishop Alan. A breath of fresh air, a moment of sanity. Hard to pick a favourite line, but I was really struck by this:

"Simply framing the Spirit’s call to ordain women in terms of the problems it raises is boring, weedy and faithless, as well as hypocritical."

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

Thank you so much for your comments about this on your blog. The whole episode has been both laughable and depressing. I sense that some want to cause division at any expense. And as you say, talking in terms of problems raised is faithless and hypocritical.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks to all for wisdom and comment. the Laughability and the depressingness hide a sorry state of affairs missionally. People, understandably, turn off Christianity when Christians are content to live in Ecclesiastical Disneyland. They know they're being sold a pup!

Lauma said...

Made me think. Of all those little moments in my church (Latvian Lutheran version). As when women are the sort of underground, invisible people the men just walk straight through. Or when one can preach, only half-secretly, semi-hidden, in the god-forbid-if-they-hear-we-allow-it ways...Do you think it will change - that the calling of God will get through to those that so clearly know God's will that they do not hear his voice?

Anonymous said...

"Simply framing the Spirit’s call to ordain Mormons in terms of the problems it raises is boring, weedy and faithless, as well as hypocritical."

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Zauris, your words encapsulate for me the folly of sexism in the Church (or anywhere else, for that matter). We are called to the open proclamation of the truth, based on our baptismal identity (which the bible quite specifically teaches transcends gender). It was on that basis that, for example, a variety of gifts and ministries were exercised at Rome in the first century — the list in Romans 16 includes female apostles, and deacons. The notion that an eleventh century ideology of priesthood somehow trumps this basic principle of Christianity is rather extraordinary. INteresting, too, that the reasons medievals gave for excluding women from ordained ministry were entirely drawn from their own sociology (women don't really have brains, etc.).

Anon (why not, please, use your name?), I'm not sure what point you're wanting to make. I would say it's inherent in ordaining anyone in any Church that you either do it or don't do it. Catholic order is clear about this. The church, rather than the individual, takes responsibility for the validity of the ministry it confers. Therefore it is sectarian to leave the Church because it has ordained someone it shouldn't have. That was the problem with Novatianism. Any church that cooks up its own institutional form of Novatianism is, by doing that, putting itself further outside the ambit of Catholic order than it would by ordaining the wrong people.

Charlie said...

Alan, it must be difficult for Bishops to stick their head over the parapet, so well done for being courageous enough to speak your mind. But I'm not sure your attempts to pin this on "blind officialdom" rather than the ABC are convincing.
I agree that this isn't Rowan's style, and probably emanates from some faceless member of staff, but isn't that just as if he had said it himself? As the leader, he is responsible for what happens on his watch.
Perhaps his Archepiscopate could have looked rather different if he had chosen different people around him?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Charlie. I've had a few emails suggesting I can now look forward to a long ministry in a penguin colony! I hope, nay even believe, the C of E is not a Stalinist organisation in these matters, and I wouldn't insult +Rowan by suggesting it is.

But even if it is, I suppose you just have to tell the truth as you see it sometimes, and I was more than sorry for the missional implications of this story, and, even more personally perhaps, by the pain this outwardly trivial kind of gesture does to female colleagues, who give their ministry everything they've got, in faith, and then find their gender inadvertently rubbished by an institution they represent. I object to this, not as some kind of feminist thing, but because it conflicts with the Golden Rule.

Another email suggested this was a matter of law — a wholly mistaken point of view when there is, of course, no law about wearing mitres (or not) in Church. Most English bishops didn't before the twentieth century.

Another interpretation suggested that, since US female bishops have worn mitres in Cathedrals before, there was some degree of entrapment by the Southwark authorities asking the question in the first place. In this case the worst one can accuse blind officialdom of doing is rising to the bait and making a fool of itself.

You raise the fascinating question of the Archbshop's (ecclesiastical) familia. I think it's a fair question, but I need to say I have no real inside knowledge of it. I am spectacularly lucky in my immediate familia, and have to hope +Rowan is in his.

The implication of this incident is, in these terms, sad. Someone has made +R, good and holy man that he is, look like a complete klutz before, say the 3 and a half million readers of the op-ed in the Huffington post. I really regret that, because I know he is no such thing, but one of the most remarkable people I've ever met.

I'd love to see, if preserved, how historians answer your key final question!

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

That's another really helpful comment Bishop Alan, and thank you. I am also much encouraged by the joint statements by Bishop Michael Perham and Bishop Mary Gray Reeves. Bishop Mary was clearly not asked to refrain from wearing a mitre.
We are certainly aware at Exeter Cathedral that we hold different views about some of the matters current in the Anglican Communion. Our need is to go on praying together, rather than trying to write other people off. What bothers me most about some of the 'traditionalist' blogs and web sites is that they don't actually regard TEC, and especially their women bishops, as genuinely Christian. All the talk of 'two different religions' is totally disabling our mission. And if I could ask ++Rowan to do just one thing in the current situation, it would be to ask him to make it absolutely clear that TEC ARE Christian, and that attempts to write them out of Anglican thinking are simply NOT acceptable.

Justin Brett said...

This thread has gone some way towards making me more optimistic about the current mess we're in. In paricular - Alan, thank you for sticking your head above the parapet. If more of your episcopal colleagues did the same, it might make all of our lives easier. I feel desperately sorry for +Rowan - he is, as you say, remarkable, and in a situation that has been made increasingly uncomfortable by his overwhelming desire to keep factions in the Anglican Communion together when what they really want is a pitched battle.

That brings me to Canon Andrew - thank you, too, for such a generous and wise post. I only hope we can all manage to hold to the advice when General Synod meets in a few weeks time.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Andrew, thanks for adding so richly to the discussion. I'm very grateful for the reference to the Bishop of Gloucester.

Your approach in Exeter seems very much more helpful, and Christian, than many other approaches that demonise or rubbish those with whom we disagree. Jesus indicated that the simple word "raca" is by no means a trivial matter in the kingdom.

Thanks also, Justin. I think there is plenty to inspire hope, but we do have to seek it in our gospel, in other words, in holiness not politics.

I find the more I reflect on this the more it seems nothing to do with the arcana of not ordaining women, which largely belong in their develope form to the eleventh century, but rather basic gospel values.

After all the C of E has put itself through on this, we need to remember your wisdom Andrew, and the significance of not saying "raca" to other baptised sisters and brothers — but it also says that nobody who puts their hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of heaven. Pray God that doesn't become God's judgment on the Church of England in this matter.

June Butler said...

What a remarkable and refreshing thread of comments here.

What bothers me most about some of the 'traditionalist' blogs and web sites is that they don't actually regard TEC, and especially their women bishops, as genuinely Christian.

Canon Andrew, speaking as a layperson in the Episcopal Church in the US, it hurts when those we consider our brothers and sisters in Christ exclude us from the Christian family. Not all of us on the side of full inclusion of women and GLTB persons in the life of our church have been gracious in our commentary, but we don't accuse those with more conservative views of not being Christians.

This is the sort of commentary about our Presiding Bishop that we have become accustomed to see:

At the same time, Mrs. Jeffords-Schiori (I hope I spelled that properly) has made a point of advancing image politics (I don't know what else to call them) since she became presiding "bishop". She thinks it's time for women to have more POWER, but sees no real value in the work of, say, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Note first of all that the PB is "Mrs." and is not addressed by her title, because she is not a "real" bishop. He moves into ridiculous territory when he presents what he asserts as what must be the PB's views on Mother Teresa.

The majority of us in TEC very much want to be part of the wonderful diversity of Anglican Communion. We may be removed against our will because of our stand for what we see as justice and equality for all in the life of our church, but the consensus is that we will try quite hard to keep our place at the table.

David Deangelo said...

This is my thinking that I return from a very busy week hosting Indian visitor. Please don't argue.

Bradley said...

Agree that the comments are wonderfully refreshing and well thought out. And I also concur that perhaps a little levity wouldn't hurt either. I was felling 'pouty' and wallowing in self-pity earlier this week over the debacle, and it was from a well-meaning acquaintance (who has contributed to this string) that reminded me that Christianity and it's mission is an ever-constant endeavor to change hearts, something that is far difficult than etching stone, creating gold crosses or embroidering silly hats (that some bishops wear I hear).

It is truly wonderful to read this blog and know that an actual English bishop has the humility to consider himself a bus driver and remind us that it is the business of trying to get all to see the light is really what it's all about.

Pam Smith said...

This has heartened and encouraged me - thank you.

And thinking about being heartened and encouraged - which are essentially the same thing - made me realise that all the thinking in the world isn't going to get us (the C of E) out of this fix. The solutions have to come from our hearts.

I know a female Area Dean who has offered the most gracious possible support to Forward in Faith colleagues within her deanery throughout the debate about how to proceed on women being Bishops, and this has been very graciously accepted. That heartens me as well.

As an ordained woman in the C of E, I have no wish to see those who are unhappy with women being ordained being pushed out of the C of E. I think we would be much poorer for it because they are not just 'people who are opposed to women's ordination' but people God has called who have offered that calling to the church. They are part if his plan too. So I can understand the desire to keep everyone together as a 'heart' thing as well.

But equally, I think this is urgent because if God is now calling some women to be Bishops, and they are being rejected on the grounds of gender, then we as a church are rejecting the resources God is trying to give us, and I don't see how we can prosper as a church if we are refusing to be resourced by God.

In this sense I think that people who reject women's ordained ministry out of conviction are on far firmer ground spiritually than those who are restricting it on the grounds of expediency.

Sometimes we are called to act prophetically and trust God for the consequences.

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

Having posted my comment here, I've since tried to post something very similar on one of the conservative blogs - indicating that praying together must be our primary response. I have been amazed by a comment today that has basically said that unless you are a conservative evangelical, then you are simply a 'cuckoo in the nest', that those outside of that traditon have no real place in Anglicanism and never should have.

What kind of witness is it really intended to be? I certainly feel, in Bishop Alan's words, 'demonised and rubbished'. What have we come to?

Pam Smith said...

A few years ago I read a book called Prophesy! by Tony Higton in which he wrote about his regrets in being so hard line about what he termed 'non salvation issues.'

I think this is they key for me - if I felt I knew exactly where God stands on everything, and that he was going to send people who didn't agree with him/me to Hell, I think I would feel justified in pushing my hard line as hard as I could for the good of other people.

Since I don't feel like that I really have no way of communicating with people who do. :(

Bradley said...

Ultimately I guess one has to come to the conclusion that there are people out there that are worshiping a very different god than you or I.
And like a child having a bad tantrum, you've got to ignore the screams before they cry themselves out.

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