Synod and the unengaged majority

So the Women Bishops measure got 94% approval in the House of Bishops, 77% in the House of Clergy, and 64% in the House of Laity, but it was still lost, by six votes. It might not be a rejection of women bishops, just the enabling legislation, but it sure feels like a rejection to me.

A lovely priest in Exeter has written: “I for one am a total mess today and don’t mind admitting it. It has nothing to do with aspiring to a ‘pointy hat’ (what woman wants to be 6ft8 anyway?) but everything to do with feeling that you are second class in every way, an issue for the church and problem to have around…”. She put the words into my mouth.

I feel angry, disheartened, frustrated that the vote means women will remain second-class adherents for at least three more years. I don’t want to be Bishop, and I don’t feel called to be a priest. I actually think in some way I’m called to be a lay person.

When various commentators express their sadness for women priests, and not for women laity too, they are making the issue more about advancement than equality and justice. So alongside the anger, a feeling of almost fierce gladness has surfaced – that of all the houses it was the House of Laity that brought it down, because now the laity are in the spotlight. If women are second-class citizens, the laity are third-class citizens, well behind the bishops and priests (so I guess that makes the women laity sixth-class citizens).

Christina Rees, a lay member of Synod has said: “It feels as if the House of Laity betrayed the entire Church of England last night.” To me, it feels as if the Church of England has betrayed the laity over many years.

Many have said that the House of Laity result is not representative of the views of the laity: 42 of 44 dioceses supported the proposed unamended legislation, and 80% of active church members are in favour of women bishops. But the House of Laity is where decisions are made, and decisions made by those who show up. The House of Laity not representative of the laity because it has become dominated by special interests, by those of extreme views who tend to be more energised and self-selecting.

Why do the rest of us not stand for Deanery, Diocesan and General Synods? Many reasons. Because many talented people have not been encouraged to stand – it has not occurred to them, or they consider themselves not worthy. Or because they have work and families, and General Synod requires taking three weeks out of a busy schedule. Or because they have tried church meetings in the past and found them rife with conservatism, boring and irrelevant – in my case, two PCCs, one Cathedral Community Committee, and occasional guest attendance at Deanery and Diocesan Synod meetings. Exeter Diocese is more clericalised than most, and maybe I should have tried harder. Maybe I would have tried harder if I hadn’t had to address the chair (as “Madame Chairman”) before I could speak, or submit items for AOB in advance – the Spirit blows where she wills, anyone?

So why did WATCH not manage to pack the House of Laity with supporters? Did they try? And why does the Church of England not quote the views of the laity in its press responses to the vote? The secular media at least managed that. Could it be that the laity are not valued in the church? What in fact we heard yesterday was the still small voice of the unengaged and unloved majority.

Some links and sources:

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