On Monday 26th January, in York Minister, Libby Lane was ordained Bishop of Stockport. Having been so immersed in framing the legislation and accompanying provisions through the General Synod, it was a joy and privilege for me to be there. Slightly strange, emotionally, at this point to be observing and almost off-stage, but so good to have reached this point and to have been part of a process that has had such an outcome after so many years. In my view, Libby is so well suited to be the first – grounded, somewhat understated, and quietly firm in faith and spirituality.
Eight hours later and I am in a parish in my diocese for the Institution of their new Vicar. And this is a parish with ‘Resolutions’ in place, and I am sharing the occasion with the Bishop of Fulham. A strange conjunction, but actually this is precisely what we were striving to make possible. Our five ‘Guiding Principles’, complete with their deliberate internal tensions, mean that our orders of deacon, priest and bishop are open without equivocation to both women and men. And at the same time, we say as clearly as we can that those who are not able, in conscience, to accept this are fully and joyfully part of the fellowship of our church. Inconsistent and contradictory? Yes. Right, proper and godly? Also, yes. Can we make it work? We must.
And the next day, Holocaust Memorial Day, rather puts it all in perspective. An evening gathering hosted by Chatham Memorial Synagogue: Jews (traditional, liberal and reform), Sikhs, Muslims and Christians all present and participating. Moving contributions from local schools and others: songs and poems; prayer from a rabbi, a Muslim woman and a Christian member of the local youth parliament; stunning reflections from young people who absolutely get the kind of world they want to inhabit.
With all due respect to the Church of England, I think I know where the focus needs to be. We ought to be looking outside ourselves to the needs of ‘the world’. But then again, might the measures we have put in place over women bishops offer a pattern for the world – how do we live with difference?