Bishop warns of exodus over blocking of women

Bishop of Sheffield Steven Croft
Bishop of Sheffield Steven Croft

A “SIGNIFICANT” number of members of the Diocese of Sheffield have talked of withdrawing from the life of the Church in the wake of the blocking of women bishops, the Bishop of Sheffield has revealed.

Many are “hurt and angry” over the national defeat of the motion, and are threatening to stand down from their posts and volunteering, said the Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft.

He warned that serious matters had to be addressed when he spoke to the Sheffield Diocesan Synod - its general assembly - five days after the Church of England’s General Synod narrowly rejected the law allowing female bishops.

Dr Croft told bishops, clergy and laity from across the region that he was “deeply saddened” that the vote had been defeated and that “it is my honest view that the standing of the Church of England in our nation has been damaged, I hope temporarily”.

It was clear that the Church was feeling the pain of the current situation, said Dr Croft, who trained men and women for ministry when warden of Cranmer Hall in Durham, and who paid tribute to the contribution made by women through ministries in the diocese and further afield.

“I deeply value and cherish their ministries as do the parishes where they serve. Alongside their male colleagues, they serve sacrificially, wholeheartedly, with great skill and dedication. Many, I know, feel bruised by this decision not because they want to be bishops but because they feel their own ministries as priests and deacons are again called into question.”

Bishop Croft spent more time than usual in a presidential address, at the Diocesan Synod in Warmsworth, Doncaster, on the fallout from the vote by “affirming [the] Christian understanding of the equality of women and men before God in society and in the life of the Church.”

He said he had “spoken and corresponded with a large number of angry and hurt people since the decision. “So great is their hurt and anger that a significant number have talked of resignation and withdrawal – from their posts, from additional responsibilities, from volunteering, from the life of the Church of England.”

He added: “I can understand those feelings. They will take time to work through. In the end we must each reach our own decisions.”

Dr Croft also addressed those who remain opposed to the ordination of women as bishop. “ The Church of England as a whole is more determined than ever to pursue that course and we will be held to account by the society we serve. So the uncertainty about the long term future will continue.”

He warned: “I can see every possibility of attitudes hardening and proposals emerging at the next stage which are less reliant on legal safeguards and more on building a culture of trust.”

Amid moves to try to find a fast-track solution to the crisis, it was revealed this week that 33 of the 74 members of the House of Laity who rejected the motion were female.