One of the things I love about the Church of England is its breadth – its mix of differing styles of worship; different theological opinions; the old, the new; tradition and contemporary thought. I can be as moved by the Holy Spirit flowing through a beautiful cathedral choir as I am a worship band.
Sometimes that means it is a difficult to be, it can truly frustrate the heck out of me. Sometimes it is a painful place to be. We’ve seen recently a spotlight on racism in the church, and the pain that continues to cause; for me personally as a female leader in the church I’ve experienced personal pain and disappointment, sexism and prejudice; for others there are many other reasons.
Despite the negative experiences, over the years I’ve also spent some good time with people I fundamentally disagree with and them me; I’ve had open and loving conversations about deeply felt issues; I’ve challenged and listened; stood up and backed down; learned and unlearned.
And this wonderful yet painful, cocktail of faith is what unites us in our difference – this bride of Christ that we are here to nurture, to build, to prepare – together. We cannot reach out with The Gospel to all those who need to hear it, in a uniform way – the difference amongst us enables us to reach out and to be heard far and wide. That’s why greater diversity, in many forms, is so important for us to work harder towards.
Tomorrow the Diocese of Chichester gets two new bishops. One of them is a woman. One is a member of The Society. There have been some questions about their consecrations. Today there has been a lot of talk about mutual flourishing. Lots of opinions, lots of pain. Anglican Twitter at its finest…
So, I’ve thought a lot today about responding and whether to write something, after all writing about female leaders in the church is something I do a bit of… But you know the biggest thing I feel right now is excitement. Some months back at an event, our diocesan bishop asked me what I wanted in a new bishop. I rather facetiously said, ‘well actually bishop, I’d like to see a woman in post’, not ever thinking it would happen in Chichester (I did then go on to add some more constructive suggestions!). Clearly it’s not all +Martin’s decision but I do think it is testament to his ongoing commitment to enabling mutual flourishing in this diocese, that Ruth and Will have been appointed, and fortuitously at the same time.
For many years Chichester has had a difficult reputation – even now I hear female clergy say they’d never work here and I receive emails asking what it’s ‘really’ like before someone applies for a post here. Well, I can honestly say, I love working here, I feel that God has raised up and called women – and men – here to help see change, and it is happening. Yes it’s still tough sometimes but it’s also a fabulous place to be and hugely rewarding. So yes, of course I am delighted to see Ruth’s appointment and I am excited about how God will use her here.
So whilst I acknowledge there is pain, there are questions and misunderstandings, I just feel that we have a lot to celebrate tomorrow. The questions are not going to go away on one day and the pain is still heartfelt, but for me I just want to celebrate our new bishops tomorrow. Perhaps God knew that we’d be looking for two new bishops concurrently, but either way, tomorrow offers us the opportunity not only to celebrate the consecration of Ruth & Will but also to celebrate the breadth of this batty old institution that we get to minister in.
But if you really want it – for more info…
Some thoughts on Mutual Flourishing from a few years back