It is a year today since it was announced that Bishop Sarah was to be the new Bishop of London. As we scurried through the passages under S Paul’s cathedral and to the Chapter House for the ‘reveal’ I was still working out what it would be like to work, as a traditionalist, with a Bishop whose sacramental ministry I cannot receive. I can say unequivocally that it has been good.
At the time I posted here that I thought we could make it work and if we can make it work, we can bring a gift to the whole church. Nothing in the time since has given me any reason to change my mind on that.
There has been much said about mutual flourishing in the Church of England and a determination to ensure that the hopes can be turned into reality. I think Bishop Sarah and I have demonstrated a little bit of what that reality might mean. The willingness of the Bishop to live and breathe her commitment to making everyone’s ministry flourish, including mine and that of other traditionalists and conservatives has been wonderful, and I am grateful to her for it. I can think of a lot of men who might have been up for London who would not have been nearly as able to work to the Five Guiding Principles and honour them in letter and in spirit.
But this is not to say that I have not continued to reflect and pray and to ponder, and to have discussions and conversations with many. There has been some challenge too: “Pious words from Luke Miller. Having tried to be loyal to the ‘mainstream’ why can’t he simply admit ‘we’ve been shafted’?”
My worries were not for the establishment of good working relationships and I think we are showing that we can work through what we need to work through, and the arrangements will stack up. There are pinch points, and every now and again something comes up that we need to think through, but we do. We can work this stuff out.
I do however have a worry for the longer term. It is this: mutual flourishing seems terribly easy when conservatives and traditionalists are giving way with grace. It has not (so far) worked awfully well the other wayround. It seems to me more people need the experience Bishop Sarah and I have of working with those with whom they differ, and I don’t mean with PEVs. I mean day to day on senior staff teams with those who help make and implement policy for the whole diocese.
When you are with me you are with (I think) half of the archdeacons in the country who cannot for any reason receive the ordained ministry of women. There are – as far as I am aware – now no Deans and no Canons Residentiary in Church of England who are conservative evangelicals or traditionalist catholics.
It changes the dynamic on a staff team when the ‘other’ is actually in the room as part of the conversation talking about normal things. Unconscious bias is then made all too conscious, which is no bad thing. I was surprised speaking recently to archdeacons from another diocese that none of them had deep links with, understanding of, or visceral desire for, the flourishing of their conservative evangelical parishes. Those parishes thus became a problem to be solved rather than partners in the gospel. When I am in the room talking about the ordinary stuff of Common Fund and Capital Vision and deployment and housing and funding and faculties and mission and development, then the ordinary things include and do not exclude, and enable us to form the working relationships on which genuine mutual flourishing can be formed.
Often there is a focus on Bishops, but at least part of mutual flourishing is to have those about who know how the cogs and wheels of diocesan stuff actually work, what is and is not possible, and to have had an experience beyond chairing a deanery synod. Otherwise the trope will be perpetuated that these trads/concs just don’t “get it”.
There are no figures for where traditionalists and conservatives fit into the mutually flourishing mix. They seem to be as rare as sixpences in a Christmas Pudding. Questions (see pp51-52) in General Synod asked by me and others in two sets of Sessions have simply revealed that the data is not available. It seems clear that in terms of those who on theological principles do not receive the ordained ministry of women there are seven serving Bishops, and two archdeacons. Put another way, there is no headship evangelical in the country, and only two traditionalist catholics who, not being Bishops are more senior than being an Area Dean.
This is not a good show; mutual flourishing must mean more than that. My nightmare is that in the long term all this joyous working it out and mutual flourishing stuff is really a cover for terminal care; that the tide is coming in over the sandbanks and really there isn’t a desire to give a genuine place in the life of the mainstream to those of us who hold what has become in our church a minority view.
I know that is not what Bishop Sarah and many others want or are working for. I am hugely grateful to her and others for that. I also know that there is a need to ensure that the new arrangements work in all directions, and that means more appointments like that of Bishop Sarah, and Bishop Libby’s translation, announced today. But soon now we need to see some clarity coming through that what we are attempting, I believe successfully, in London can be modelled also elsewhere.
Fear is the path to the dark side; fear produces anger; anger produces hate, hate produces suffering. So Yoda. But Suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character; and character, hope; so S Paul. I’m with S Paul, not with Yoda; but we do need to work on this together so that hope can be fulfilled.