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?
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.