We may have women bishops but the church cannot serve its congregations
Ambitious career women who aspire to be bishops are now most welcome in the Church of England but, in an ironic twist not uncommon in moral tragedies like this, Christian old ladies are increasingly being neglected.
The decision by the General Synod yesterday to approve women bishops must be seen against the background of the huge financial challenges the national Church now faces. What kind of institution are women going to be bishops of?
Certainly one that is struggling to resource local churches with pastoral ministry. Many dioceses cannot afford to replace frontline clergy even in situations where the departing minister was looking after several churches. The balance sheet demands that parishes be left fallow for long periods.
Boasting about how the Church of England is now more engaged with society than ever with food banks and debt counselling centres proliferating on the ground rings hollow without viable church communities to sustain such programmes.
Where ministers are not being replaced and where those that remain are having to run around multiple benefices, all kinds of people suffer. But the younger and the richer you are, the more likely you are to be able to travel to a good Bible-teaching church. Centres of excellence certainly are emerging as the denomination declines.
But if you are an old lady who has served your local parish church faithfully down the years, the lack of pastoral provision really hits you. You walk down to your local church on a Sunday only to find a notice affixed saying that the next service is in a month’s time.
As for being visited in your home, that is becoming virtually unheard of, whether by a vicar or by an over-stretched church volunteer.
This state of affairs is entirely predictable for any thoughtful Bible reader. When the world is allowed to take over the church, it is the most vulnerable servants of the Lord Jesus who get side-lined whilst the brash and brassy are cherished, allowed to flourish and indeed fast-tracked into senior positions.
The late Malcolm Muggeridge in his 1972 autobiography The Green Stick eloquently described the deleterious effect of the worship of power in man-made revolutions: ‘Orwell’s devastating exposure of the pursuit of power through revolution in Animal Farm, and of the maintenance of power for power’s own sake in 1984, was intended to show, with the desperate intensity of an honest mind, that the world of the mid-twentieth century was moving towards a collectivised way of life, whose only truth would be slogans, whose only duty would be conformity and whose only morality would be power.’
In conforming itself to the feminist revolution, the Church of England is sadly now turning into no church for old ladies.
Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.