“Seeing differently, speaking differently and building relationships in places of difference”

The Diocese of Canterbury Bishop’s Adviser in Women’s Ministry

The Reverend Sheila Cox

The Vicarage, Pett Lane, Charing, Ashford, Kent. TN27 0DL Tel: 01233 712598 Email: sheila.m.cox@btopenworld.com

Dear colleagues, “Seeing differently, speaking differently and building relationships in places of difference”. Greetings! It is nine months since my appointment as Bishop’s Adviser for Women’s Ministry and I thought I would take this opportunity to share some thoughts. Early in the year I set about the task of building a core team, inviting one person from each of the three Archdeaconries who would assist me in this role. I am grateful, therefore, that Rev. Joyce Addison (Maidstone Archdeaconry), Rev. Cathy Sigrist (Ashford Archdeaconry) and Rev. Rachel Webbley (Canterbury Archdeaconry) have agreed to be Assistant Advisers. In due course, this core team will be joined by others when specific expertise is sought. In addition to the meetings and events that we plan for the whole Diocese, there will also be similar events planned by the Assistant Advisers on a more local basis. These may include outside speakers, a gathering for prayer and reflection, a debate on current issues or perhaps a social event. These will be advertised through local networks and via the Diocesan website. During 2013, as a result of the ongoing discussions following the November 2012 General Synod vote re: Women Bishops, the House of Bishops reviewed its own Standing Orders and made a ground breaking decision. It was agreed that, from December 2013, eight senior women clergy will be able to attend meetings of the House of Bishops, albeit without voting rights, until such time as there are six female Bishops who will sit as of right. The election procedure, which has now produced these eight women, was carefully thought out and prayerfully executed. At the invitation of Bishop Trevor, Archdeacon Sheila Watson and myself joined other nominees in a Regional Electoral College comprising 9 electors in total. After much prayerful consideration and a vote which resulted in a tie, the Biblical precedent of drawing lots was applied and the Venerable Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney, was duly elected to represent the South East region. The full results of the elections can be seen on the Church of England website. In September 2011, former Archbishop Rowan Williams invited over sixty members of the Church of England – ordained and lay, men and women – to a conference at Lambeth Palace entitled ‘Transformations – Theology and Experience of Women’s Ministry’. Certain key messages emerged from this conference amongst which was the need to pay attention to issues of gender exclusion and marginalisation of women priests that arise largely through inflexible patterns of stipendiary ministry. Encouragement was also expressed for a review of current liturgy where it was found that inherited patterns of worship could sometimes unhelpfully perpetuate a latent masculinity which fuelled gender exclusion. Since this meeting in 2011, a Transformations Steering Group has been working on these and other issues, the results of which were presented to the College of Bishops on September 19th, the final day of their four day gathering. In a spirit of openness and gracious hospitality, each Diocesan Bishop was urged to invite a female representative from his diocese to attend the meeting. It was a privilege to be invited to attend and to be part of the ongoing discussions. Following a presentation by the Steering Group, in groups comprising a mixture of Bishops and female clergy, two main questions were posed for discussion: 1. “What enables women’s ministry to flourish?” and 2) “What are the barriers?” This letter is not an appropriate forum to present a detailed report, yet it is important to note a common aim that emerged through all the presentations and discussions that followed, namely to “see things differently” when we meet with those of different views, to “speak differently” when views that are expressed are different from our own and, most importantly, to “continue to build relationships in places of difference”. This aim has clearly been at the heart of the Steering Committee, whose 15 members “represent the widest possible range of opinion” who have worked together to shape the proposals on Women Bishops that were brought before the General Synod earlier this week. Previous attempts to square a circle have proved to be impossible, so this new package represents a different shape, one that offers the lightest possible legislation while providing within an Amending Canon a procedure for resolving disputes. This legislative package found overwhelming approval at this week’s sitting of General Synod and will return to Synod next July for a final vote. Although there is still work to be done, there seems to be a hopeful optimism shared by many people that this new package represents the best way forward for the Church of England. 2014 will mark a significant landmark in the unfolding story of the Church of England. At the beginning of May there will be a national celebration in St. Paul’s Cathedral to mark the 20th Anniversary of Women’s Ordination to the Priesthood. Here in Canterbury we will mark the occasion with a celebration of the Eucharist in the Cathedral at 11am on Saturday May 10th. All are welcome. The journey to this point has seen exhilaration and celebration, division and suspicion, heartbreak and hope, but it is my fervent prayer that this occasion will be a coming together of people whose different journeys have led them to this place where we can be nourished by Christ and sent out on a new journey together. Let us continue to pray that’s God’s will would be done and that we would continue to journey together in a spirit of unity and trust. Sheila Reverend Sheila Cox This email has been sent to all clergy, Readers and PCC Secretaries on email. Please share with your church colleagues.

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