The Church of England has finally decided to have women bishops and it is likely one will be appointed in the next year or so.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, said that “some of his best men were women.” The Salvation Army has had female preachers since 1880. The world leader of the Army has been a woman three times. Quakers have had women preachers and officials since the 1650s. One reaction is simply to say that it is a nonsense for this to have taken so long. Does anyone seriously believe that women are less able spiritually and practically to be leaders than men?
More charitably, one could look at the very deep divides there have been within the church over firstly women priests and now women bishops. Some people would see priesthood and the role of bishop as something specific, a special class of people, designated for men only, not something in lies in human hands to change. However, the Church of England has finally reached a point of recognition, that it can either have women bishops, or accept a permanent veto on change by a minority, whose view of the world it does not accept. Either decision will bring pain and it is now what they do about it.
Many Quakers and non conformists of all sorts would start from worrying at the sacerdotal priesthood; it is no surprise that among many denominations, the less ‘priestly’ you see a minister as being, the quicker your organisation tends to adopt women ministers. (Unless you follow the injunction that women cannot lead men…) Quakers always believed God poured out the spirit on everyone of any age, race, sex or background. And nowadays Quakers believe we are called to roles for a period of time; we are in a sense, all bishops if there is any bishop-ing to be done.
I prefer to concentrate on the women, women who believed they have been called by God to serve their congregations and the community, women who have been extraordinarily patient as people campaigned for the right not to treat women priests as priests and women bishops as bishops. Women who responded with grace.
Now at last the bureaucracy allows them to respond to God’s calling, and to minister to the world in a new way. As someone who always felt women have taught me more spiritually than men, I think it is a day of joy,a nd a day when the Church of England responded to the spirit. Let us be generous to those who disagree.