An odd couple, part II

Pope Francis must be reading this blog.

Two years ago, I suggested that the Pope should meet with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Vatican. It sounds odd, I know, but no odder than when Paul VI first met Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey at the Vatican more than fifty years ago.

Today, Pope Francis met with the Archbishop of Sweden at the Vatican—and she’s a woman! There are some great pictures Antje Jackelén and Francis.

(There are some other great pictures on Archbishop Jackelén’s Facebook page. I’m grateful to a Twitter follower for pointing me in this direction.)

While he is at it, Pope Francis could—given his obvious enthusiasm for Lutherans—make it a North American trifecta and invite ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCiC National Bishop Susan Johnson to talk about ecumenical relations with two communions of churches that have made some progress on that front.

Or, given his key role in the recent thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, he could invite Bishop Katharine and the Episcopal bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado. The possibilities are endless.

As Michael Ramsey and Paul VI showed, great things can happen when people look beyond differences—no matter how profoundly, honestly, and deeply held—and, for a brief, short moment, come together to pray, discuss, and reflect. In doing so, for the briefest of moments, they show forth something of the coming kingdom of God in our midst. That’s what I see in these pictures from the Vatican today.

UPDATE: Some commenters have helpfully pointed out that Bishop Cate Waynick met Pope Francis as part of a meeting at the Anglican Centre in Rome last November.


This is terrific and I’m grateful to read about this. But I’d still thinking about a personal tête-à-tête, a la Paul VI and Michael Ramsey.

Where are the women? A provisional answer

ens_092314_jeffertsSchoriThe committee charged with this task today released the names of four men to be the next presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. It is a strong and diverse list.

And it is noteworthy that not a single woman’s name made the list. Diversity does not extend to gender. This is especially perplexing in that the current Presiding Bishop is a woman (as are the Presiding Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada).

So where are the women?

The candidate pool for Presiding Bishop is made up of all bishops, though in reality this means all diocesan bishops. Of this number, some may choose not to apply for any number of reasons, whether personal, vocational, or whatever.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how rare women diocesan bishops have become in the Episcopal Church. This afternoon, I went back and tried to get a sense of the composition of the House of Bishops in 2006, the last time a Presiding Bishop was elected. Based on my count, there were more female diocesan bishops in 2006 than there are currently.

2006: Rhode Island, Nevada, Utah, Indianapolis, Maine

2015: Indianapolis, Washington, El Camino Real, and soon-to-be Central Pennsylvania

Given how much the world has changed in nine years, this should astound us. Another way of saying this is that the Church of England, which has permitted women bishops for about six months, will soon have one quarter the number of women diocesans as the Episcopal Church, which got its first woman diocesan bishop over twenty years ago.

With so few female diocesans, a variety of very good reasons may have meant that there were simply no female candidates in the process. Male bishops no doubt chose not to participate in the process for similar reasons but that still leaves plenty who do feel called to move forward.

Where are the women? There may simply not be enough to be in the potential pool of candidates.

And that should count as a very big problem for the Episcopal Church.

A rare event in the life of the church

The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania on Saturday elected Canon Audrey Scanlan their next diocesan bishop. Well done them!

Her election made me start looking into statistics about episcopal elections. Here’s what I found.

  • Canon Scanlan is the first woman elected a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church since 2011.
  • In those four years, there have been 17 other elections for diocesan bishop, which have all elected a man. (This count may be slightly off, as the list I’m using is the super-helpful Wikipedia page “Succession of American Episcopal Bishops,” which lists by consecration date, not date of election.)
  • In that time, there have been women elected as bishops, but they are suffragen bishops.
  • By my count, Canon Scanlan will be the fourth female diocesan bishop currently serving in one of the church’s 100+ dioceses. (I count El Camino Real, Indianapolis, and Washington as dioceses with elected women diocesans.)
  • To my knowledge, there is no great difference in the number of men and women being ordained or in the number of male and female priests that would explain such a huge discrepancy in the House of Bishops.

Diocesan bishops are the one who chair important committees, exercise consent over the election of new bishops, and generally set a tone for the way the church goes. I hope it is painfully obvious how important it is that there be a full complement of women in their ranks.

Canon Scanlan is highly regarded and, by all accounts, the diocese made an excellent choice. But, guys, we’ve got a long way to go.

The long journey to women bishops

Some people—including the archbishop of Canterbury—said yesterday that the vote in the General Synod of the Church of England to allow women to be bishops is “the completion of what was begun over 20 years ago with the ordination of women as priests.”

In fact, the journey began long before that—and many women in the church have lived every moment of it.

profile59Take, for instance, the biography of Vivienne Faull, the current dean of York Minister. As a young women, she worked overseas as a missionary. She returned from that experience to train for ordination. Then she was “ordained”—but as a deaconness, which at the time was as far as women could go. When women could become actual deacons in 1987, she was so ordained. Then in 1994, when women could become priests, she was priested. And now she is tipped to be one of the first women bishops. Along the way, she held some great positions—Cambridge college chaplain and fellow, cathedral canon, and now dean.

What strikes me about her story is the parallels with mine a generation later—worked overseas, came back to study for ordination, Cambridge college life. But there is one crucial difference: no one ever questioned that I should be anything other than a priest. I didn’t have to spend years labouring in orders created especially for my gender. My call to sacramental ministry didn’t have to feel daily frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t celebrate the sacraments. When women were ordained priests, many were told not to make a big deal out of it for fear of offending others. When I was ordained, the church threw a big party and I went on a local radio station to talk a bit about vocation and ministry.

Nor, as a priest, have I ever had to deal with the daily questioning of my vocation by people who don’t think I should be doing what I am doing. Maggi Dawn has written powerfully about what the challenges of training for ministry as a woman in 1994. Vivienne Faull, for a time, had a priest colleague at York Minster who would not receive communion from a woman. No one has ever turned down the host I offered them.

I remember talking with a women priest in the Church of England who was ordained as a deaconness in 1987. She did the customary two curacies as a deacon but it wasn’t clear what the next step was going to be: “It’s a good thing they allowed women to be priests so I could be ordained in 1994 and move to be an incumbent.” At the time, the statement struck me as so odd—why was there a bar that was going to prevent her from doing what all her male peers ordained in 1987 would be doing as a matter of course?

As it is, the journey is not yet over. I don’t understand the ins and outs of canon law but the legislation passed yesterday does make space for people who object to women as bishops, which can be seen to detract from women as bishops.

This is not the post of a naive young male priest all of a sudden discovering that gender discrimination exists in—of all places!—the church. Nor does it say anything that isn’t already well known. This post is simply to say—in a church whose historical memory is often weak—that the church is abundantly blessed with many, many women who have for so long borne the burden of the church’s conflict over gender—and they have borne it with consistently good grace, charity, and love. And as I read the news of the Synod vote, that is what I am most grateful for.

Now, let’s make some of them bishops.

Hidden Obstacles to Women in the Episcopate

IMG_0239The woman on the left is Martha Yar Mawut, the archdeacon of Akot in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Akot is a see city, so it’s a pretty important role. She was an important lay evangelist during the war, was later ordained, and now, by all accounts, performs her job with admirable skill and talent.

If you believe, as I do, that having women bishops is part of the Anglican charism to the wider body of Christ, then women like Martha matter. Archdeacons are among the prospective bishops of the church. The more women like Martha there are in South Sudan, the greater the chance that one of them will become a bishop.

But I don’t think Martha will ever be a bishop. And thinking about her helps us think through some of the obstacles to women bishops in the Anglican Communion.

The topic of women as bishops came up frequently on my recent visit to South Sudan. Everyone I spoke to—male bishops, male and female priests, lay people—were in favour of the idea. It makes sense. Women played a huge role in the growth of the church during the civil war. Male church leaders know that the strength of their church is in the women.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has ordained women for about a dozen years. A few are archdeacons, canons or, in one instance, a cathedral dean. In fact, on a rough estimate, I’d say the proportion of female clergy in ECS compares favourably to that in the Church of England, given that the C of E has ordained women as priests for roughly twice as long

Nor is there any canonical impediment to women bishops in South Sudan. When ECS made the decision to ordain women as priests and deacons, they (sensibly) concluded that it did not make sense (theological or otherwise) to deny women to be ordained as bishops.

So there are women like Martha in leadership in dioceses—not many, but some—and there is a path towards women bishops. So why aren’t there any?

The answer I heard, time and again, is education. Given the civil war and the lack of resources in South Sudan, training for ordination is of a necessarily ad hoc and contingent nature. Some people go for a few months to a vernacular Bible college or a diocesan training course, others are fortunate to attend ECS’ English-language seminary, a very small handful have studied abroad. For a variety of reasons, women clergy, by and large, are less educated than their male counterparts.

But ECS has a de facto requirement that its bishops be able to speak English so that they can take part in churchwide meetings. They also have to have some kind of diploma or degree. These are good requirements to have, but it means that many women who perform faithful, important ministry in their local context are unable to be considered when it comes time to elect bishops. Martha could greet me in English, but all my conversation with her was through a translator.

None of this is to minimize the unique array of cultural obstacles women in South Sudan face in pursuing leadership. But to people who know only about the “African church” that it is some kind of misogynistic institution, you would be surprised how much support I heard for women bishops in ECS.

There has been good news of late for supporters of women bishops: the first woman bishop in the Church of Ireland and the Church of South India, the first woman ordained in the Church of England elected bishop (albeit in New Zealand), and canonical changes in Wales to permit the possibility of women bishops.

So much of the debate about women bishops focuses on the canonical changes necessary. That’s good, but it’s not enough. The lesson of my recent visit to South Sudan seems to be that if you want more women bishops, support theological education.

UPDATE: Conversations sparked by this post led to a second post laying out ways to support theological education in South Sudan.

An odd couple: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori

Pope Francis and Justin Welby hung out at the Vatican today. It’s easy to miss the significance of this. Less than 50 years ago, then pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey met in Rome. It was practically a revolution that the meeting should take place. Paul VI couldn’t really recognize Ramsey as a bishop—what with Apostolicae Curae declaring Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void”—but he did famously give Ramsey his ring, a de facto acknowledgement of Ramsey’s position.

Really, Paul VI gave him the ring because he had dared Ramsey to wear the most ridiculous piece of headgear he could find.

Today, Welby wore that ring and Francis kept calling Welby “your grace,” a different way of acknowledging Welby’s position. No one is surprised by this anymore. Of course, the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would get on. It’s just how it goes.

I’m as happy as anyone else that the two of them spent some time together and I hope there is more to come. But it doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Since that Paul-Ramsey meeting, there’s been a major change in Anglicanism—we ordain women on a regular basis, and some women are now bishops. As I’ve argued before, Anglicans should not see women’s ordination as an obstacle to unity, but as a gift to the relationship.

Just waiting for that invitation, Francis

So the pictures of Pope Francis and Justin Welby are great, but here’s the picture I want to see: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori praying together, him in his white and her in a purple cassock. It would be as significant a moment as Paul VI giving Ramsey his ring. (I’d settle for any other woman bishop out there, actually. If Francis wanted to stay in the British Isles, he could go with Jana Jeruma Grinberga, whom Welby highlighted at his enthronement.)

You bet! It’s in the mail.

What Paul VI seemed to understand is that sometimes the rules and regulations are a bit outdated. You might not be able to change them, but you can, you know, circumvent them to acknowledge a present reality. I wonder if Pope Francis can see the same thing about women’s ordination.

Obviously, I’m not holding my breath on this one, but this pope has been full of surprises. Maybe he has one more up his sleeve…

How the One China policy provides a model for thinking about women bishops and Christian reunion

Back when I studied International Relations—before I was introduced to the glories of theology—there was an aspect of American foreign policy I found perplexing: the U.S. supports democracy in Taiwan, arms the country, and makes it clear that a mainland take-over of the island is unacceptable. At the same time, the U.S. officially supports a One China policy. That is, the U.S. supports the reunion of Taiwan with the mainland. How can this be? How can a democratic Taiwan reunite with a Communist mainland?

It took me a while but I eventually realized that reunion can happen when the mainland becomes democratic. For the two to be reunited, both have to change: Taiwan by sacrificing its independence from the mainland, China by changing its political system. Such changes may seem a long way off, but the policy is at least minimally coherent.

One of the arguments catholic-minded types use in opposing the Church of England’s move towards women in the episcopacy is that it would harm chances of reunion with Roman Catholics. Basically, the argument goes, if we have women in the episcopacy, Rome will never talk to us again.

Readers of this blog will know that I take the unity of church seriously, and I take this objection seriously. There are profound historical, theological, and spiritual reasons why Anglicans should be seeking closer relationship with Roman Catholics, and ecumenical reunion is something for which all Christians need to pray.

But I’m not convinced by this catholic-minded argument against women in the episcopacy. There is an important and deeply true argument for having women in all orders of ministry, which I won’t rehearse here. It is one that needs to be affirmed by the church. Let’s do it already!

But what about Rome? Well, it’s kind of like China and Taiwan, Rome being China, and Anglicans being Taiwan. Reunion will come, but it will come when Rome comes to accept the validity of the argument about ordaining women. It’s not that the Anglicans need to knuckle under, sacrifice their principles, and reunite with an unchanging monolith. That monolith needs to change to make the reunion possible.

This points to a larger objection I have to the catholic types in Anglican circles, a tendency to deny the charism of Anglicanism. I don’t see the role of the Anglican churches to be to emulate Rome as closely as possible in the hopes we can rejoin them. Instead, I see that Anglicans have a unique role to play in the family of churches, one that, for instance, upholds a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and combines a catholic ecclesiology with an evangelical commitment to the faith. Ordaining women as bishops is part of that role and helps churches around the world see larger truths of the gospel, just as Anglican learn others of these truths from other Christians.

Some people see Anglicans as little more than warmed-over Roman Catholics. Rather than acquiescing to this view, I’d like to see Anglicans fill their role in the body of Christ and share their gifts with the greater church—Rome first among them. That way, we can all as Christians move towards a greater embrace of Gospel truths, first among them “that they may all be one.”