MPs Celebrate Contribution of Women to the Ordained Ministry of the Church of England

Standard

In Westminster Hall on Thursday 20th March 2014, Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP led a short debate on the role and contribution of women to the ordained ministry of the Church of England. 14.03.20 WH debate 4The debate celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first women as priests in the CofE and looked ahead, both to the ongoing process to legislate for female bishops, as well as enabling them to sit in the House of Lords without delay. Sir Tony Baldry MP responded in his capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner, and contributions were made by Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Helen Goodman MP. The Equalities Minister Helen Grant MP was also present to hear the speeches.

A full transcript is reproduced here and a recording of the debate can also be watched on the UK Parliament website here.

Women’s Contribution to the Ordained Ministry (Church of England)

[Annette Brooke in the Chair]

Backbench Business

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(John Penrose.)

1.30 pm

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee has granted us the time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women.14.03.20 WH debate 1 A number of colleagues to whom I have spoken have been surprised that 20 years have elapsed since the first ordination. Indeed, the first of 32 women priests was ordained in Bristol cathedral on 12 March 1994. Angela Berners-Wilson was the first to be ordained, making history. Since then, more than 5,000 women have been ordained to the ministry. Last month, the General Synod also agreed to fast-track the process towards ordaining women as bishops, so the first female bishop could be chosen as soon as the end of this year, which is to be celebrated.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab):I warmly congratulate the right hon. Lady on securing this debate on this happy anniversary. Does she agree that given the exciting prospect of the first women bishops by the end of this year, there may be an argument, where sees are currently vacant, to hold them vacant for just a little bit longer in order to give some of the fantastic women in the Church of England who will make wonderful bishops the ability to apply?
Mrs Spelman:I had the same idea, and I put it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he made an important point, recalling especially his experience. When a diocese is left vacant for any long period of time, life gets quite difficult for everybody else in the diocese. He was speaking, of course, of his experience of moving swiftly to Durham and then almost as swiftly to the top post within the Church. We must recognise that although it is a good idea in principle, because it would be a way to create space for women to move into, in practical terms, we want well-functioning dioceses. However, when the event gets very close, there might be an opportunity to do what the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con):To pursue that thought, it is a matter of chronology that bishops and archbishops must retire at a certain age, although we do not expect the Archbishop of Canterbury to retire for some time. We admire and welcome the continuing services of the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London, but we hope that there is no reason why the committees and councils that nominate people to those offices will not find the pent-up talent of women, which has not been able to be used, and allow one of them to be appointed and therefore come to the House of Lords straight away.
Mrs Spelman:My hon. Friend makes an important point about what I would describe as succession planning. Where we know there is likely to be a retirement, with the prospect that a woman might be consecrated as bishop, we should be thinking in terms of those retirement seats. It is known to be done in politics in a similar way. Succession planning ensures a smooth transition, which is always good for the functioning of any institution. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will return later to the question of women bishops sitting in the Lords, which I personally hope will happen. There are some aspects that it is important to weave into this debate, and I will refer to it later.For anyone who is following the debate, the workings of the Church of England can sometimes be a bit of a mystery, so I thought it would be worth while at the start to explain a little bit, in case a lay audience is watching. The ordained ministry consists of deacons, priests and bishops, in ascending order of seniority. Those accepted for ordination as priests are first ordained as deacons. Indeed, before women could be ordained as priests, that was the staging post where women’s progression stopped. The first women deacons were admitted in 1987 and the first women priests in 1994—a total of 1,500 women deacons were ordained as priests in that historic year.According to statistics from the Church of England, women now make up nearly a quarter of the Church’s full-time paid clergy, at 1,870 out of 7,880. That is an increase of 14% since 2002, and the number and proportion of females is expected to rise further in the next three years. Clearly, the historic moment of ordaining women unleashed a great appetite for more women to enter the ministry. In 2010, for the first time, the number of women ordained was greater than the number of men, at 290 compared with 273.

I was given an excellent suggestion by the Opposition spokeswoman, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), that we as constituency MPs should take the opportunity of this debate to write to the women priests in our constituencies to give them a chance to raise any issues with us, reflect on their role as female priests and help us understand what it is like from their perspective. I thought that that was a really good suggestion, so I did it. As hon. Members will see shortly, I have woven into my speech some of the comments that those women gave me. I have decided not to attribute them—I think it is probably better to protect the identities of people in a public ministry—unless they expressly asked me to put a name to their quote. They made some interesting comments.

During almost 17 years as the MP for Meriden, I have had the privilege of seeing at first hand the vital contribution that many ordained women have made to the life of my constituency. One vicar described the role of women priests as “transformational”, both for the Church and for the work of churches in the local community. There are a number of benefits that come from having priests of both genders. Women bring a different approach to Church governance. Although it is perhaps a bit stereotypical to point this out, the consensual way in which women like and tend to work has resulted in the creation of many more connections at the constituency level between churches of different denominations. I have certainly seen that change led by the female clergy in my constituency. Women are also often able to approach governance issues from a different perspective, with a focus on discussion and practical solutions rather than on necessarily winning the argument hands down. That kind of collaborative approach brings benefits. I have seen increased co-operation not just between churches of different denominations but between churches and other agencies and charities in my constituency. The female priest is often at the heart of the networking process.

Women also bring a particular creativity to ministry. When women first came into ordained ministry 20 years ago, they had only male role models, which required a creative approach to being a woman and a priest. That has had many benefits for local communities. It takes anyone a while to work out how to be themselves in a job, but even more so when they have no similar role models to work from. In every sense, women priests have been trailblazers over the past 20 years.

It goes without saying that women are not the same as men. They often have more responsibility for families, looking after the home at the same time as carrying out a job. Many female vicars are also mothers or grandmothers, and I have seen the benefits that those other duties have had on their ministry. One female vicar in my constituency said:

“In Kingshurst, people call at the vicarage if they need help. I listen to a woman who works in a factory and needs help with improving her reading. I have been doing this for about three years.”

Some of the women in my constituency lack female role models within their own family—perhaps they are estranged from the grandparental generation. A female priest can provide real practical help, advice and support to young women making their first steps in motherhood without a family network around them.

There are other ways in which women priests can show their creativity in ministry. For example, in my constituency, a woman priest was involved in setting up the Seeds of Hope project in 1998. It is an independent charity that continues to flourish. It encourages a range of community activities in the north of the Solihull borough, an area that has three wards in the bottom 10% of socio-economic data. There is real deprivation in that part of my constituency. Seeds of Hope operates out of the church village hall, but remains independent, and its continued success is absolutely central to the ongoing needs of the community. One example of the kind of networking I described is that the charity plays host to a credit union, which operates at the same time as it runs lunches and support clubs for the surrounding community. The female priests have a pivotal role and bring real benefits to that community.

Mr Bradshaw:Does the right hon. Lady recall, at the time of women’s ordination, dire predictions from Anglo-Catholics like me that the ordination of women would lead to some terrible rupture in our relations with our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters? That has not happened. As she said, at a local level, women are often far better at cutting across denominations, working collectively and bringing faith groups together. The hope is that what we have done will spread to other Christian denominations.
Mrs Spelman:The right hon. Gentleman is right. The dire predictions about the ordination of women have been proved wrong. The sky has not fallen in. There has been an important cultural shift. For my late father, the idea that a woman would administer communion was strange to begin with, but he quickly came round to the idea that women are good at the job, not least because they listen well to their parishioners’ needs and carry out the office with great dignity. His concerns were blown away very quickly. Cultural acceptance of the ordination of women has been remarkably smooth in most cases.On women bishops, if we bar women from reaching the top of Church governance, we might not always get the best person for the job, with the honourable exception of Archbishop Justin Welby, for whom I have the highest regard. It is right to place on the record that he has been skilful in weaving his way through this minefield with good grace. I sincerely hope that he will see reward with the achievement of women being consecrated as bishops.
Sir Peter Bottomley:I am sorry to intervene for a second time, but I have to go to a charity meeting, so I will probably be unable to make a speech. I take this opportunity to say that the archbishop, the other bishops and the Synod realised that accepting the Women and the Church recommendation to take away the barrier and sort things out quietly was the right way. That was led by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, who made it absolutely plain, in Parliament, in public and later to the Synod, that the House of Commons would not stand for continued discrimination on baseless grounds.
Mrs Spelman:My hon. Friend’s intervention was well worth making before he understandably slips away. I think all of us in this debate would wholeheartedly concur with what he says. Parliament will not stand in the way and we want the change that we support to take place.The outcome of the General Synod vote last month is also to be celebrated because it has been a long process to get to that point. In July 2005, the General Synod approved a motion to begin the process of removing legal obstacles to women in the episcopate. It was only last month, however, that it voted to approve the process, and the final vote will be in July 2014. The Church of England has stated that it is “fully and unequivocally” committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all. That is the official position, but some will, of course, remain opposed. Those who minister within the Church of England must accept that the Church has made a clear decision that those ordained are the true and lawful holders of their office and deserve due respect.I have a number of friends who are female priests and they initially felt a great sense of obstruction and rejection from the views of the Synod following the great setback in progress towards women’s consecration as bishops. It made life very difficult for some of them in their parishes, because those who perhaps did not fully accept the ordination of women in the first place received a certain succour from the reservations expressed through the Synod about women’s consecration. That was a great shame, and I am pleased that progress is being made. That surely must be an encouragement to the women who have been ordained to the ministry.

The Church of England will continue to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including those who continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops. It must therefore accept that its own decision on gender in the ministry is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican communion and the whole Church of God. Those within the Church of England who oppose the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of the Anglican communion, and the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its structures.

I pay tribute to the work of WATCH, the campaigning organisation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) just referred. It points out that there are still areas of concern about the point at which we have arrived. The first two of the five principles established by the package that the Synod recently agreed contain a clear, uncompromising statement—I have read it out—about women’s ordained ministry, but WATCH has concerns about the other three statements. It recognises that they represent where the Church of England is, both in voting by the General Synod and, to a much lesser extent, on the ground in the parishes. WATCH remains to be convinced that the mutual flourishing called for in the fifth principle is truly possible with that fundamental incompatibility.

WATCH remains concerned about the continuing role of flying bishops, because although the Act of Synod is to be rescinded, most of the arrangements it contained remain in place, including flying bishops. That might result in the continuing tendency for parishes under their care to separate themselves from the mainstream of the Church of England, with consequences for those parishioners who welcome the ordination of women. When the Second Church Estates Commissioner speaks, he might like to reflect on some of the remaining concerns of WATCH, because they are legitimate and important to place on the record, so that we as parliamentarians understand where there is still work to be done. I know that he will place the Government’s position on the record—as will the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant)—but our support for the next step could not be made plainer.

Although there is much good work on the transformations steering group of the Church of England, it still has some challenges to address. The group was set up after a conference held by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to raise awareness of the issues faced by women in the Church, and it continues to call for research into strategies to address obstacles that limit the flourishing of women in ordained ministry. We all need to work hard to ensure that the glass ceiling does not remain in place, even once the formal barriers to women becoming bishops are removed. That is important. Inevitably, entrenched attitudes against women might remain, and many women will still not be fully accepted within the Church.

Our next challenge will be getting women on to the Bishops’ Bench in the House of Lords. At present, many ordained women have reported feeling that they are still regarded as second best, which will persist unless we are successful in getting a mix of men and women bishops in the upper House. There are, however, some complexities. It would require a change in the law and an Act of Parliament, so I signal to Members present that an important job of work will be undertaken by Parliament in due course. It would be a shame if the manner in which Parliament was caught up in this led to some obstruction of the main objective of getting women consecrated as bishops. With the expertise and wisdom of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Parliament can hopefully navigate its way through that aspect of the minefield and achieve what we want.

Other challenges for ordained women come in the language used when talking about ordained women. We cannot necessarily pass a law for this one, but it is indicative of the cultural challenges that persist. One senior female vicar that I know commented that we need to avoid talking of “fast forwarding women”, because the reality is that, had some of those women been men, they would have been in senior roles long ago. The Church of England needs to embrace the gifts that men and women bring. Perhaps there will come a time, as the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) suggested, when, in management terms, the space can be made for women who really deserve the opportunity to rise to the most senior ranks within the Church. There is always a tendency for gender to be blamed for unpopular decisions, and women will continue to face the challenge of being made a scapegoat for all the problems in the Church, but the problem is not unique to the ministry. Women experience it many parts of our society, including politics.

In conclusion, we can celebrate the positive contribution made by ordained women to the Church over the past 20 years. This anniversary year will also be marked with a national celebration at St Paul’s cathedral in May, and I hope that as many of us as possible will be able to assist on that occasion in a spiritual context. This is the first national celebration of ordained women—a first for the Church—and we need to celebrate the women priests who have made such a difference over the past 20 years, and look forward to the changes that are to come with the ordination of women bishops.

I want to finish by reading an extremely well-expressed reflection from a women priest:

“It has been transforming for the church and has started a process of holy orders being fully complete with both women and men, a process which will itself be fully complete when women as well as men are included in the episcopate. For both women and men are created in the image of God. In my experience it is only people inside the church who ever question this process at all. For those whom we minister among, it is normal and expected for women and men to be vicars as well as bishops, and our ministry is accepted and valued without question.”

I could not have put it better myself and it comes better from someone who is in the role, serving the people whom they have been ordained to serve.

1.53 pm

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab):I had not intended to speak in this debate as I have to shoot off before the scheduled finish, but given the opportunity and as Members are disappointingly thin on the ground, I will just say a few words. 14.03.20 WH debate 5I want to reassure those watching the debate that the attendance is no reflection on the issue’s importance. If anything, it shows how far we have come that this is not a controversial issue any more. It is of course also a Thursday and we have only a one-line Whip.As the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) made clear, something that 20 years ago some predicted would be the end of the world has become a valued, valuable and wonderful part of our Church life. It may amuse hon. Members to learn that I was dragooned into joining the Movement for the Ordination of Women as a teenager, when my father was serving as a canon at Norwich cathedral, by the wife of the dean, Margaret Webster, who was one of the founding members of the movement. We also had in our home at the time a young student called Katharine Rumens, who has become a fantastic priest in the City of London. Along with the Campaign for Real Ale, the Movement for the Ordination of Women was something that I joined long before I joined the Labour party; it is what brought me into political activity and campaigning, and what a good way of learning how to campaign and lobby it was.After all the terrible setbacks of the ’70s and ’80s, we were ultimately successful, and it fills me with great joy, as a founder member of what was probably called the teenage or young movement for the ordination of women, to be here 20 years on to celebrate something that is now so unremarkable, and to look forward to our first consecration of a woman bishop, hopefully this year,.I pay tribute to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who has performed an absolutely sterling job. After that disastrous vote in the Synod at the end of the year before last, we were in shock. A general trauma made its way through most of the Church of England, and was felt in particular by women priests. How must they have felt at the outcome of that vote? After all the work, after the big majorities in the dioceses and synods, after the overwhelming support in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, how must they have felt to have the proposal fall at the final hurdle and miss the two-thirds majority in the House of Laity? There was a great deal of justified anger, but the right hon. Gentleman, supported by Members from across the House, made it absolutely plain to the powers that be over the road that the situation was intolerable and had to be addressed as quickly as possible.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the urgent and effective manner in which the new Archbishop of Canterbury has grasped the matter. I speak as a liberal Catholic, and he is not from my tradition, but I always had a slight inkling that it would require somebody from the evangelical tradition to get this through. He speaks the right language. What he will have achieved—if he, collectively with the Synod, achieves it this summer—will be remarkable and fantastic. After that vote, most of us had given up hope that we would get the Measure through before the next election and before the election of the new Synod.

I urge the Church to consider holding open currently vacant sees for just a little longer than they usually would. Interregnums often go on for several months, as did the recent one in Exeter, so it would not mean people waiting a great deal longer—I hope—before getting a new bishop. That would send out a really positive signal. I should not be rude, as we have a great bunch of bishops who do a fantastic job in the House of Lords, but one hears rumours that we are getting to the end of our talent pool, as regards male suffragans who can be promoted to diocesan bishop. That is certainly not the case when it comes to our senior women clergy, many of whom I can imagine would make absolutely first-class bishops. I want to name just a couple who have a relationship with my constituency. Jane Hedges, whom we exported from the Devon diocese, where she was a parish priest, was recently appointed Dean of Norwich. We have a fantastic canon at the cathedral called Anna Norman-Walker, who is also our diocesan missioner, and there are several other fantastic women priests in a diocese that was traditionally rather conservative.

When I first arrived in Exeter in the early ’80s, it was one of those arch-traditional Catholic dioceses that regularly sent people to Synod to argue against women’s ordination. We had a series of diocesan bishops, regrettably in my view, who opposed women’s ordination and women becoming bishops, including the most recently retired one—he was one of only two bishops who voted against in the vote at the end of the year before last. We now have a new bishop who is clearly and categorically in favour of women bishops. We still have the Chichesters out there, but when a diocese such as Exeter, which had a strong tradition of conservative, traditional Catholicism—if I may put it like that—can move in the way that it has, it shows how the Church of England has moved as a whole.

I want to finish with the point that I alluded to in my second intervention on the right hon. Member for Meriden, which was about the dire predictions made about the disastrous impact that women’s ordination would have on our relations with our sister Churches, the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. Yes, the relationship has been up and down and bumpy, but I do not detect any serious, lasting and irrevocable damage. Do not forget that we have other important and valuable sister Churches, such as the Lutherans and Churches on the continent, and they welcome the direction in which the Church of England has moved.

I have also been heartened by comments by the new Pope, who is an absolute breath of fresh air after the previous one. He has said some encouraging things about women, gender, the role of women in the Church and how the Church needs to move away from its obsession with sexual morality and move towards issues of justice, gender equality and so forth. That is exciting. At some time, though not in my lifetime, I confidently expect the Roman Catholic Church to embrace the ministry of women, in exactly the same way as the Church of England has done. It is a theological inevitability. It may not happen in my lifetime, but the fact that we have done it, blazed a trail and shown how positive, successful, valuable, wonderful and holy it is will help progressive Catholics on the same road.

2.1 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con):As I have said already, I cannot stay until the end of the debate, and I am trespassing on the goodness of the Chamber in speaking now, so I will not speak for long. 14.03.20 WH debate 6When George Bernard Shaw talked about a “realised impossibility”, he was talking about a person: the man who in 1906 was turned down for ordination by the Bishop of Oxford. What was that man doing when he died in 1944? He was the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had found Archbishop Davidson, who trusted that his beliefs about a couple of parts of our creed would come into orthodoxy. The key point is that if someone can become Archbishop of Canterbury after being turned down for ordination, and can become a bishop at the age of 41, we can have no particular problem in filling any vacancies for bishops or archbishops.Given the time that women have had to wait, were one to be nominated and introduced as Archbishop of York in succession to John Sentamu, whom we all admire and to whom we wish good health and happiness, that would not be looked on as an aberration. It would not be looked on as compensation, but as proper recognition that among the women who have been ordained in the Church of England there are those who can fulfil that role.I agree with the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) about the breath of fresh air that has come with Pope Francis. Any of us who have known the Roman Catholic Church in central and south America over the years since the conservative priest Oscar Romero was made Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, also know that he certainly believed in standing up for the oppressed and the poor, although perhaps not in the theology of liberation. He said that unarmed people should not be shot by those who have power. I was out with some of his nuns and catechists, and they would have had no difficulty with the ordination of women. In fact, when Parliament eventually passed the Church of England Measure for the ordination of women, some of the most enthusiastic celebrators outside Church house were Roman Catholic nuns in this country. They said, “It is not a matter of whether we do the same; it is a matter of when.”

The issue of women bishops was described well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) in her introduction to the debate. I, too, pay tribute to the members of Women and the Church, and to people in the diocesan synods and the General Synod. Although the vote on the pretty compromised suggestion that we are replacing failed, we must remember that the proposal was passed by each House with a significant majority, and only failed in one House by not getting quite a big enough majority. We should not condemn the Synod, because what has followed is an example of something that makes a situation better, rather than worse. The delay is bad, but what the archbishops and facilitators have brought together, and its acceptance by the bishops—not all of whom voted for it, but they have all accepted that this will happen—is a tribute to the Church. When we first discussed this in the Chamber of the House of Commons, I think that I remember saying that we are a bishop-led Church, and we ought to trust the bishops. If we take away the barrier to women, we may then trust the bishops, whether male or female, individually or collectively, to make matters reasonable for the remaining objectors.

Every parish that thinks it is against recognising the ordination of women ought to re-examine whether they want to continue in that way. In my constituency, one parish had a sign outside the church saying, “Be assured that you will not be receiving communion from a woman in this church.” A decade later, that church was up for closure. One of the women who was campaigning to save it asked, “Why have we been picked out?” I said, “I don’t know; ask the bishops, but it is probably because you aren’t very active. By the way, the first time I came to your church, it had this sign.” She said, “I never knew that”, and I suggested that she ought to have a talk with the parish council to see whether that was still valid.

A lot of people simply go along with tradition. Today, I was walking past the Salvation Army headquarters on Queen Victoria street and, of the two churches I passed, one is open to all and the other has a sign stating that it only holds services from the Book of Common Prayer. Perhaps no one realised how controversial that book was when first introduced, but the notice struck me as rather dismissive of all the people who have worked on liturgical commissions over the past 20 years, led by David Stancliffe and Stephen Platten, both of whom have managed to bring to our services glory, and words that are in addition to, not substituting for, those in the Book of Common Prayer.

I look on having women as priests, bishops and archbishops as normal and natural. People might think that I would say that, because I am a member of the Denis Thatcher society of those of us who are married to women more important than we are. My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was among the first 10 women in the Conservative party in the House of Commons to be a Cabinet Minister. I look forward to the day, if I live long enough, when we can say that we have at least 10 women on the Bench of Bishops in the House of Lords, and I shall stand at the Bar and bow my head.

2.7 pm

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab):It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mrs Brooke.I congratulate the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) on securing this debate. It is great to have something to celebrate and, given that we have had so many debates in which we have been complaining and anxious about what is going on, it is wholly appropriate also to have a debate to celebrate the good news that is the ordination of women in the Church.14.03.20 WH debate 7

 

Listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), I realised that I first met him through the Movement for the Ordination of Women at the house of Katharine Rumens, who is an excellent priest in the City of London, as he said. I, too, joined the Movement for the Ordination of Women when I was a student. When I came to London, I ran the Kensington branch with Kate. At some point, Margaret Webster, who by then was the wife of the dean of St Paul’s, decided that we should have London-wide meetings, which took place at 6 o’clock on a Saturday in the crypt. We used to meet monthly, and there might be six or eight people—it did not feel encouraging in the early 1980s, so we knew that this would be a long and slow journey.

In 1994, therefore, for the big service in St Paul’s for the first ordination, I thought, “Well, it starts at 3 o’clock, so if I bowl up at 10 to 3, it’ll be absolutely fine.” I could not have been more wrong. There were 3,000 people queuing several times around the cathedral. I stood in the queue behind a man who said to me, “Oh, I have been involved from the very beginning.” I wonder how many people had their picture of the situation transformed by what happened, and by how happy, pleased and welcoming everyone was about the change once it had happened and we had leapt over that barrier. I therefore agree with the right hon. Member for Meriden that it is good that there will be a service of celebration on 3 May. I hope as many people as possible will be able to go.

The best realisation of our hopes, however, is the work we see women priests doing in their parishes. In my constituency, the excellent Jane Grieve has a rural parish; she does a lot of community development work and has really grown the Church there. In one of the areas of my constituency that has the most problems, we had a priest called Brenda Jones, who struggles against all conflict and is a beacon not just for the Church but for her entire community. Those women have brought something very special to their ministry and have excelled in their roles.

I turn now to the question of whether and when we will take the next step. I should have said before, Mrs Brooke, that my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) sends her apologies. She wanted to be here but was not able to attend. We offer our full support to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), in giving the message to the Church that Parliament is not content to see indefinite delay—we are 100% behind him. The decisions taken in the General Synod in February are welcome. We look to the July Synod as the opportunity for us to complete this important legislation. As other hon. Members have said, Archbishop Justin has managed the situation quite brilliantly, showing a deft touch that was clear to us all when he was all too briefly Bishop of Durham. That has made a big difference to what has happened.

I agree that it would be unfortunate if it took a long time to get women bishops on to the Bishops’ Bench in the House of Lords. I am not someone who thinks that we should not have bishops in the House of Lords or that we should disestablish the Church. Bishops play a useful role in our Parliament and our constitution. The sooner we have women on the Bishops’ Bench, the easier it will be to defend—at the moment there is a slight awkwardness in defending that special role for the Church of England.

On the question of whether dioceses should be expected to wait a little longer for a new bishop in order that a woman might be appointed, I was completely opposed 15 months ago during our interregnum in Durham. Now we have Bishop Paul, I think that perhaps other dioceses could manage a little interregnum. Obviously it is extremely difficult for any diocese to have to trade off between managing without a bishop for a long period and having more gender balance in the Church. I hope that the way that the Church manages the ordination of women bishops will be swift enough for that not to be a significant problem for very many dioceses.

Today is a happy occasion. We are all pleased about what has happened. We look forward to the next step and to hearing from the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

2.14 pm

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry):I start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) for initiating the debate and providing the House with an opportunity to celebrate the contribution over the past 20 years of ordained women clergy to the Church of England. I also thank her for providing me with an opportunity to advise the House on where the Church of England now stands in respect of women bishops, which I shall do later.14.03.20 WH debate
We are all grateful for the presence and support during the debate of the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant).
Sir Peter Bottomley:If you will allow me, Mrs Brooke, I wish to apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. I meant to rise to catch your eye after she had, and I apologise for jumping up when I did. If she had spoken, three men and three women would have spoken in the debate, which would have been the perfect balance.
Sir Tony Baldry:That is a timely intervention. For anyone reading the debate in Hansard, I should explain that, although I am effectively responding to the debate, I am not a member of the Government. I am by statute appointed by the Crown as Second Church Estates Commissioner, so I am accountable neither to the Government nor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, as the Bishop of London pointed out to me shortly after I was appointed, I am, like the Dean of Westminster, accountable only to God and the Queen—that is how he put it. This is not a ministerial response, then, but one I make in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner.My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was absolutely right to say that the ordination of women has unleashed an appetite in other women to come forward for ordination. She was also right to set out some of the many qualitative contributions that women have made to ordained ministry and, indeed, the pivotal role of many women clergy. We were also fortunate this afternoon to have heard some excellent and helpful speeches from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), all of whom are members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the Committee of both Houses that considers Church of England measures when they come to Parliament—as indeed is my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden.The right hon. Member for Exeter was absolutely right in making clear the urgency and effectiveness with which the Archbishop of Canterbury grasped the issue of making progress towards sorting out the General Synod on the issue of women bishops after its very unhappy vote. The Archbishop clearly recognised that there was a need to get a grip on that issue and get a grip he did.I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is going back to Exeter this weekend, and I hope he takes back the good news from yesterday’s Budget that, between all of us, we were able to secure from the Chancellor £20 million towards repair of cathedrals. If I may say so, that indicates that the Church of England is taken seriously by Government. There is a recognition that it is sometimes difficult to raise money to repair the electrics, or the roof or guttering. That fund is meant to be put towards such problems and will be welcome news, I hope, to cathedral cities such as Exeter.

Mr Bradshaw:I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his letter outlining the details of that fund—it was in my postbag this morning. I congratulate him on the successful lobbying he has clearly conducted with the Government to deliver that support.
Sir Tony Baldry:I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those comments. It was a team effort. We also have to thank Lord Cormack in the other place, who brought all the deans together, who then made their views known to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). In due course, he made his views known to the Treasury. It was a good example, as so often happens in this place, of the House working across parties consensually and collaboratively to secure a result that we all wanted to see.My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, who is the church warden of St Margaret’s, was absolutely right in his comments that we all now see women priests as normal and natural, and that we all hope to see a situation in which women as bishops will equally be seen as normal and natural.The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, who has been a great supporter of women in the Church, appropriately made the point that the best realisation of the hopes of all those who had supported the ordination of women priests, way back when she had done so in the 1980s and earlier, is the work that women priests are now doing in our parishes.

On 11 November 1992, the General Synod passed the measure that would enable women to become priests in the Church of England. That measure then received parliamentary approval in both Houses in 1993 and it received Royal Assent on 5 November 1993. On 12 March 1994, at Bristol cathedral, the first 32 women were ordained as priests to minister to the cure of souls in the Church of England. It had been possible for women to be ordained as deacons in the Church of England since 1986, but it was not until 1992 that the General Synod was able to agree the measure necessary to enable women to be ordained as priests. Since then, some 4,200 women have been ordained as priests.

Today, some 23%, or nearly a quarter, of stipendiary ministers—full-time paid clergy—are women. Just over half, or 53%, of self-supporting ministers are women. At present, some 1,245 people in England are training to become Anglican priests and of those, 594, or 48%, are women.

Therefore, it can be seen that over the past 20 years women clergy have played an important part in the life of the Church and of our nation’s life, and over the coming 20 years, I anticipate that the proportion of clergy who are women will grow. With the exception of women as bishops, which I shall say a little more on shortly, women already make a much valued contribution to every part of the Church.

There are now five women deans of cathedrals—in Birmingham, St Edmundsbury, Salisbury, Guildford and York—and of course, as has been said, Canon Jane Hedges, one of the canons whom we know well from her work at Westminster abbey, will shortly be leaving to become dean of Norwich. There are 16 women archdeacons and 51 women in the House of Clergy, where they make up 27.5% of the House of Clergy. One finds women as stipendiary canons in 16 of the 44 cathedrals and women clergy as chaplains in hospitals, hospices, prisons, schools and universities. As we know well in this House, we are fortunate to have a woman as the Speaker’s Chaplain—Rose Hudson-Wilkin. In the armed forces, four women are serving as padres or chaplains, and of those appointed as honorary chaplains to the Queen, seven are women.

Mr Bradshaw:On the Speaker’s Chaplain, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Speaker deserves a lot of congratulation for making that appointment? It was greeted terribly by some Conservative forces in the media at the time, and she has turned out to be the most fantastic chaplain to this House.
Sir Tony Baldry:Yes. I entirely endorse those comments and I think that the House would feel that the Speaker’s Chaplain has done what hopefully chaplains do in every institution. As part of the Church of England, the national Church, they are chaplains to everyone involved in the institution. Rose Hudson-Wilkin has made, and is very much making, the Speaker’s Chaplaincy a chaplaincy for everyone working in the Palace of Westminster. We all saw that particularly when—I think for the first time probably since the Reformation, or indeed ever—the Archbishop of Canterbury came to take holy communion in the Crypt Chapel on Ash Wednesday, and people were present from both Houses and from every walk of life in which people work and serve in Westminster. One felt that this was a community coming together to worship.Women priests are now involved in every part and aspect of the Church’s life, from Lambeth palace where two of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s close team are women priests, to parish priests up and down the country. As time goes on, I think everyone expects that the proportion of women as cathedral deans and archdeacons will grow.On Saturday 3 May, to mark and celebrate the 20th anniversary of women as clergy, there will be a gathering of ordained women clergy and others at Westminster abbey in the morning, followed by a procession to St Paul’s cathedral, where there will be a service of celebration for 20 years of women’s ordained ministry. I know that many similar services are planned across the country. For example, on 7 June, the diocese of Oxford—the diocese in which my constituency is situated—is holding a service of celebration in Christchurch.

The diocese of Oxford has always had a strong record of ordaining women, starting with 67 women who were ordained in six separate services in 1994. Of those 67 women who were ordained priests in Oxford 20 years ago, nine are still in active ministry in the diocese and many more, although formally retired, still hold permission to preach and are continuing to support parishes.

Among those first women priests still working full time in the diocese of Oxford, we have a school chaplain, an area dean, who has just been appointed our newest archdeacon, a university college chaplain, and priests in rural and urban parishes. Of the four archdeacons in the diocese of Oxford, three are women, and the diocese has seen women ordained in every sphere of ministry. There are ordained women on the staff of all three theological colleges in the diocese. The military bases in the diocese have had women chaplains, as have prisons and detention centres.

From those first 67 women ordained 20 years ago, there are now more than 250 ordained women currently ministering in the diocese of Oxford, and I am glad to say that many more are coming forward to offer themselves for priestly ministry. Every diocese could tell a similar story of the achievement of women over the past 20 years in ordained ministry. It is appropriate to reflect not only on the significant quantitative contribution over the past 20 years that women have made to ordained ministry, but on the qualitative contributions that women in ordained ministry have made to the life and work of the Church.

It is also important to recognise that there are still challenges. For example, there are still relatively few young women offering themselves for ordination—those coming straight from university—and a significant number of the current women priests are self-supporting; in other words, they are non-stipendiary.

In anticipation of this debate, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, I wrote to several people asking them whether they felt there were observations I should include in the debate, and one of them was the Speaker’s Chaplain. Rose Hudson-Wilkin made the following observations, and as she is our chaplain, I think they are worth sharing with the House:

“As we go forward, the Church must stop leaving women to feel ‘second best’; We are not tainted and the Church leadership must ensure that they do not embed a theology of taint in their keen desire to embrace all. Women must not suddenly become the scapegoat for all the ills of the Church (e.g. talk of the ‘feminisation of the church’. When we were all male leadership, the numbers of women were still higher than men).

We should not be talking of ‘fast forwarding women’—the reality is that if some of these women had been men, they would have been in senior roles! The Church of England needs to embrace the gifts that men and women bring as the future flourishing of the Church depends on this. All dioceses should look at their senior management team and begin to ask questions about what is preventing women from being included…As a Church, we must embrace unconditionally, the reality that women in Leadership is with us to stay (we should not be using the language of discernment)…I am aware of women who go to challenging parishes with very few people and through sheer dedication and the work of the Holy Spirit, make a difference.”

Not surprisingly, those supportive of women’s ordained ministry have for a long time been supportive of women being consecrated as bishops in the Church of England. As the House will know, this has been a long process, with much debate in the Church and in the General Synod. The process has not been without its setbacks and disappointments for those supportive of women being consecrated as bishops in the Church of England, particularly in the General Synod last November, when the appropriate Measure failed by a very small number of votes in the House of Laity.

Following that, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited Canon David Porter of Coventry cathedral to involve, in a process of dialogue and mediation, various groups in the Church that were concerned about both the theology and the practicalities of women being consecrated as bishops. I would hope that in that process of dialogue and mediation, the concerns of every group, including WATCH and others, were listened to and considered and that efforts were made to resolve them. It resulted in the bringing forward of a much simpler, four-clause Measure, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the General Synod at its recent February meeting.

The General Synod also agreed that dioceses should have three months in which to decide and report their views on the new Measure. So far, 13 dioceses have met and voted on the new Measure. All have overwhelmingly endorsed the new Measure. Indeed, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, there was not a single vote against the Measure in any of the houses of the diocese.

Last time, 42 out of 44 dioceses supported the Measure. This time, for practical reasons, it will not be possible for the diocese in Europe to meet in time, but if the majority of the dioceses do support the Measure, it will return to the General Synod in July. I hope that if at that General Synod the Measure succeeds in obtaining two-thirds support in each of the three Houses—the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity—the Measure can be referred to the Ecclesiastical Committee of both Houses as soon as possible. I am sure that that Committee will want to meet as speedily as possible if and when a Measure comes before it and I hope that, if it finds the Measure expedient and approves it, the Measure can then go before each House separately for approval. Every indication that I have had from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons is that the House will do everything to make proper provision for a debate that is as timely as possible when the time arises. I hope that in way we can have the Measure fully and properly considered, approved and passed into law well before Christmas and that we will see the first women bishops consecrated shortly thereafter.

Right hon. and hon. Members have asked about the situation of women in the House of Lords. This House will not be surprised to learn that I have been discussing that issue with the Leader of the House of Lords and the Leader of the House of Commons. Of course, the position of bishops in the House of Lords—the Lords Spiritual—is that they are Members of the House of Lords. It is therefore a question of who is summoned to Parliament. It is not something that can simply be resolved by a Measure of the General Synod; it will require primary legislation. However, I think that it would be fair for me to summarise the position of the Government, as I understand it, thus. In terms of primary legislation, they will seek to facilitate as speedily as possible what the Church of England feels would be most appropriate in these circumstances. I think that discussions are now taking place within the Church of England. I understand that the Lord Bishop of Leicester, who convenes the Lords Spiritual, is in negotiations with various groups to give some thought to how best that can be achieved.

People have to understand that there are suffragan bishops and there are diocesan bishops. Not all the diocesan bishops sit in the House of Lords; some do so on the basis of seniority. Several issues need to be considered, but I am confident that as and when the Church of England comes forward with a proposal, the Government will give it the most serious and positive consideration.

Helen Goodman:If and when the proposal is made, Her Majesty’s Opposition will be as co-operative as possible in expediting it.
Sir Tony Baldry:That is a very helpful intervention because by definition, given the parliamentary timetable, it is likely to come towards the end of this Parliament and, as all those of us who have been here for some time know, the usual channels, for understandable reasons, tend to get a bit jumpy as we move towards Parliament being prorogued and so on. However, I think that everyone—including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who at Prime Minister’s questions made this very clear—wants the consecration of women as bishops to happen at the earliest possible moment and does not want that to be in some way overshadowed by acrimony or a debate about their not being properly represented in the House of Lords.I make no pretence of seeking to be a theologian, but I have always been struck by the observation of St Paul that“if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain”.

The resurrection is central and crucial to Christianity, and at the time of the crucifixion, the disciples, for understandable reasons, had fled. It was the women who stood witness to Christ’s crucifixion. It was the women who found that the stone was rolled away, and it was to Mary Magdalene that the resurrected Christ first revealed himself.

I quote from the New Testament:

“Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.”

The last 20 years have demonstrated that women priests are well able to proclaim the risen Christ throughout the land and, by their ministry, have made and continue to make an enormous contribution to the life of the Church, community and the country. Today’s debate and all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed, from both sides of the House, have demonstrated and confirmed how much women’s ordained ministry is valued and appreciated.

2.38 pm

Mrs Spelman:I am very moved by the passage from scripture that the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), has read to us. He did well to read it into the record, as we are in the period of Lent; we are coming up to the time when we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact that he revealed himself first to a woman and asked that woman to tell the brethren is very poignant indeed. 14.03.20 WH debate 11I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing some scripture into our debate, which has been very encouraging. We hope that the women who are serving in ministry, in what is a difficult job—“the curer of souls” is a resonant phrase to describe one who undertakes the highly vocational service of ministering to great human need—will read the record of our debate and know that Parliament gives its support to their calling, and that we want to go further. We want to see their calling extended to the high governance of the Church of England, and we want to see it soon.I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I thank the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for staying with us on a busy afternoon. He is a liberal Catholic, and I, like many Anglicans, have been heartened by the hopeful message that the new Pope sent early in his ministry about the inclusive way in which he regards the gospel and his Administration. His inclusion of women at the top of the Catholic Church was a great encouragement to me and others like me.

 

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) for taking up the theme of the support that parliamentarians can give to the important step of women becoming bishops. He spoke of his high aspiration to see one day a female Archbishop of York to follow in the excellent steps of John Sentamu, who holds that office with distinction. He helped us aspire to see a new chapter in the Church of England’s future.

I thank the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who genuinely was there from the beginning. I applaud and pay tribute to her for that, and for seeing the importance of fighting for this issue with her friends so long ago.

I am sure all hon. Members wish to put on the record their thanks to the Second Church Estates Commissioner—what a title!—who is respected in the House of Commons and across Parliament. He brought the debate about the future role of women in the Church to this important moment just before the significant change with skill, wisdom and discernment. This issue is safe in his hands as our representative—our go-between—in Parliament to the Crown and the Church.

I hope our debate has sent a message to the 4,200 ordained women that we greatly value what they do. The Church is facing an inter-generational challenge, so it is important that it attracts more young men and women. The young generation simply does not understand why we do not ordain and promote women to high office in the Church. The future of our Church is safe in the hands of the new archbishop, but it is important that we take the next step of consecrating women bishops. I am delighted that we have been able to have this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

2.43 pm

Sitting adjourned.

(via Parliament.uk)