I have an overwhelming sense of deja vu, reading the latest statement from our bishops:
"Statement on Women in the Episcopate from the House of Bishops of the Church of England, 21 May 2013
At its meeting in York the House of Bishops of the Church of England has committed itself to publishing new ways forward to enable women to become bishops.
In its discussion on the issue of women in the episcopate, the House received and approved for publication the report from the Working Group on Women in the Episcopate which was set up on 11 December to prepare new legislative proposals following the General Synod’s rejection of the last legislation on 20 November 2012.
The report of the Working Group presented four new options as a way forward and proposed that the General Synod should consider those options at its meeting in July. The Working Group also proposed a timetable which would involve the legislation starting its formal stages in the Synod in November and receiving Final Approval in 2015.
The House of Bishops has agreed that the report of the Working Group should be published with a separate report from the Archbishops on behalf of the House setting out the House’s recommendations to the General Synod. The House has also asked the Business Committee of the General Synod to arrange for a substantial amount of time to be available at the General Synod in July for facilitated conversations in small groups before the Synod comes to a decision on the way forward.
The House also approved the necessary changes in its standing orders to ensure the attendance of senior women clergy at its meetings. These changes were proposed following the House’s decision at its meeting in December to ensure the participation of senior female clergy in its meetings until such time as there are six female members of the house, following the admission of women to the episcopate."
We await the publication of this report to see what these four new ways forward may be. But it all seems very reminiscent of the seven ways forward that we debated ad nauseam in General Synod only three years ago. What will be different this time?
The timetable proposed is an ambitious one, and it is good to see an aspiration to this happening quickly. But I very much hope that a laudable desire for speed does not push Synod into agreeing to unwise legislation simply to get something - anything - through.
I am also wary, given recent history, of the little detail that the archbishops intend to publish a separate report of their own. The archbishops' 'advice' so far in this process has been unhelpful, to say the least. Let us hope that this time is different.
I am also unimpressed by the fact that the bishops have at last changed their standing orders to allow some women to join them. Given that this sop was promised some months ago, it is a worrying symptom of a lack of political will that this could not have been done in time for women to be present at this meeting. This meeting, after all, was the one it was important for women to be at. This was the meeting that was setting the agenda on women for the next few years. Once again, women are the objects of male discussion and male decision making, when we were promised that this would not happen again.
I am pleased that the house of bishops wants this to happen, and happen quickly. But if I were marking this statement, it would get a C(+): Some good ideas, but must try harder.