Niger-Hamilton pops the question: Are there three Bishops with what it takes....

The Rev. Nigel Taber-Hamilton, rector of St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods Episcopal Church on Whidbey Island, WA, formerly of the Church of England, all around great citizen of the Kingdom of God, and so forth, pops the question.  He writes over on "The daily Episcopalian."  The question:

"One wonders if there are any three English bishops out there with the guts to get together and do what the Bishop and the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen and the Bishop of Ross and Caithness did for the Episcopal Church in consecrating Samuel Seabury (our first bishop) on November 14, 1784: consecrate a woman as a bishop in England."


Of course the question might better be connected with the bishops who had the guts to come together and with some amazingly gutsy women ordain 11 women as priests in Philadelphia. ( I was honored as a priest to take part in the laying on of hands in that service.)

The comparison is closer to the second, since what Nigel is suggesting is that three English bishops, seated in the synod's house of bishops (I presume) come together and ordain a woman bishop. It would be an in-house job. This would put everybody's head on the block - the ordaining bishops, the ordained bishop, all those who came for the consecration and shouted 'We will" or whatever you get to do in England on such occasions.  And what would the CofE do then? Or for that matter Parliament?  

Five years.... 

Of course CofE people longing for this to happen could wait. Waiting is something they are apparently used to. Waiting.  They indeed serve who only stand and wait. But they serve too who run ahead and live as if tomorrow was always the invention of today, so why not live there now, thereby achieving a kind of immortality?

Is the time for waiting over? The "justice delayed is justice denied" card has been played.  

Is it true?  Is justice delayed what is at stake here?  Where is the justice issue here? Since no one has a right to ordination, or even to the chance for ordination, where is the injustice in denying some people access to the process or the goal?

Well, I believe the justice issue is this: IF (and it is a big if) baprism is the sacrament of our life hidden in Christ's death and resurrection and thus all our possible vocations so hidded there as well, then bringing such vocations to light is something every baptized person has an obligation to participate in making possible. 

The rights and obligations fall first on us, each of us, as baptized persons. We have the right, and the obligation, to live into what God calls us to be and do, recognizing that that call must be also that of the community in which we serve in ministry. So it still is the case that a bishop and council (however that is put together) could say that a particular person's call to ordained ministry is not joined with the call felt by the community to ordain that person. Ministry is in community, and when there is no confirming action by the community the call is incomplete.  It is still the case that no bishop must ordain any given person. The hands still are finally his or her hands. Withholding might or might not be unjust, but it is so based on specifics.

When a person is by class, caste or inclusion in a group, denied access to ordination, or allowed in only by a side door, or denied the actual ordination itself (having gone through the process), systemic injustice exists, and delaying THAT is justice denied. 

To delay and delay again the access of women to ordination as bishops becomes a practice, and the practice of systemic injustice is exactly a case of justice denied.

Action to correct the injustice might be viewed as illegal, immoral, foolish and / or intemperate. Yes. If the law reads one way and you act against it you are still stuck with the fact that it is a real law that you have disobeyed.  If the law requires one sort of process and you proceed to work outside that process, yes, you have disobeyed. And jail time, dishonor, maybe charges of abandonment (do they have that in England?) and possible deposition are possible.

What separates the good bishops who took part in the Philadelphia 11 ordinations and the ordinands themselves from, say, the Bishop of South Carolina and followers, is that when they disobeyed the canons for cause they acknowledged they had done so and were ready to take the consequences. No one ran from the Church and hid in the fiction that they were immune from the law.

It is then that they stood and waited: Waited to see what would happen.  So justice was done and after some delay justice was done to them, and in the process something about what constituted justice in this case also changed. 

If there are three bishops up for this, and a candidate or two ready to be put forward by a diocese willing to receive them, the matter of what constitutes justice in a system that needs to clean up its act regarding "appointment" of bishops, would be joined.  If dioceses in England actually called their bishops by election or some other process in which they had rights to elect from candidates they choose, the issue would already be clear - that there are dioceses ready to accept, receiver, confirm, invite, the ministry of a particular woman as bishop, or candidates without reference to gender. Since there is no such process (as far as I know) maybe the challenge to a bad system by an "irregular" ordination would tilt the matter towards the arc of justice.

That would be a fine day.      


  1. Well-written article that makes good sense. Stand your ground, take action, stand on the results and any resulting consequences and end the ridiculous stalemate that has been going on far too long.

  2. Mark, I agree. Such an act would likely involve both ecclesiastical and and civil disobedience (established church), but how long, O Lord, must women priests wait?

  3. Not as risky as it once was, Mimi. Gibbon records of Geoffrey of Anjou, father of Henry II, that "when he was master of Normandy, the chapter of Seez presumed, without his consent, to proceed to the election of a bishop: upon which he ordered all of them, with the bishop elect, to be castrated, and made all their testicles be brought him in a platter".

  4. This is just too rich. Isn't this the same site that went apoplectic over global south bishops consecrating bishops in North America? As long as you are honest about your lawlessness.

  5. robert holman: let's see.. Yes I was strongly against global south bishops making deposed US bishops part of their provincial house of bishops and their followers dioceses in those provinces. Yes I was opposed to bishops coming to the US and doing a variety of episcopal acts here without permission of the bishop of jurisdiction. I was strongly opposed, not apoplectic, and the issue was about mucking about in territory not their own.

    In this case the three bishops would be English bishops, not from outside, but from inside. The reality of their disobedience would be clearer as would their challenge of bad law and custom. I invite you to see what Geoffrey of Anjou did when election was irregular, as per Lapinbizarre in the comment proceeding yours.

    But the thing is, this is an in-house disobedience, there is not people in another province.

  6. Yes, Samuel Seabury, a real rule- breaker that one!

    By all means let's turn the CofE into TECdom. I believe it was just this fear that turned the vote of the laity against the measure as insufficiently charitable. 33 women voting No can't be without significance.


  7. Non-Cross-provincial makes all the difference. I see. Clear as mud.

  8. Well, if it's perfectly right and proper for Nigeria to consecrate bishops in the USA, then why shouldn't the Episcopal Church begin consecrating its own English bishops and opening branches in England ... or in Nigeria for that matter?

    As far as I'm concerned, Nigeria and Rwanda can consecrate all the American bishops they want so long as the Episcopal Church gets to do the same anywhere it wants, including Nigeria and Rwanda.

    And if an English or a Nigerian bishop decides to seek asylum with the Episcopal Church and take their dioceses with them including all the church property, then why not let them?


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.