On 20 July, WATCH (Women and the Church) issued a Press Release commenting on the presence of objectors at the consecration of female bishops, and hoping that at the next consecration of female bishops, “things will be arranged differently”. A letter from WATCH to the Archbishops of Canterbury commented:
‘…such interruptions create the perception that the Church is willing to allow a woman who has been called by God and the Church, and appointed by the Crown, to be publicly insulted and undermined. If that is so, it undermines and insults all women: and especially women for whom female bishops are potent symbols of a radical shift in the Church’s treatment of women. ‘Maybe things haven’t changed at all, underneath’, they might conclude.
The Press Release, a copy of which is reproduced below asks for supporters of WATCH to write to Cathedral Deans, “who carry the responsibility for what happens within the buildings concerned”, and to the Archbishop.
In addition to generally-applicable legislation such as Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, there are secular provisions directed specifically at the disruption of church services (see Neil Addison’s Religious Criminal Offences and Ecclesiastical Bouncers). We also note the availability in some cases of the Clergy Disciplinary Measure 2003, although this is not applicable in the case of those referred to in the WATCH Press Release; in Christian Today Ruth Gledhill indicates that at the last four consecrations of female bishops, the same objector identified as Rev Stephen Holland, a minister from an independent church in Lancashire., has asked to voice the same objection.
During the consecration of Libby Lane, the first female Church of England bishop, when the Archbishop of York asked the congregation asked if she should be ordained as a bishop, the Rev Paul Williamson stepped forward shouting “not in the Bible”. The second time Dr Sentamu asked the congregation, there was no opposition and the ceremony continued. Fr Williamson is an Anglican clergyman who is active in his opposition to the ordination of women per se. Following various unsuccessful actions in in the courts, he was declared a vexatious litigant by a Civil Proceedings Order on 16 July 1997, [R v HM Attorney-General ex parte Reverend Paul Stewart Williamson  EWHC Admin 691]. This significantly restricts the access of Fr Williamson to bring an action in the civil or ecclesiastical courts, as we examined in Vexatious litigants and the consistory courts; however, the views of a vexatious litigant may nevertheless be heard as evidence.
Such a heavy-handed approach is not being sought by WATCH – only that a “hope that things will be arranged differently” “at the next consecration of female bishops”. Also implicit in WATCH’s comments is that a consistent approach should be taken within the two provinces. One can understand WATCH’s frustration at these interruptions which are “not only being enabled but … becoming a part of the liturgy”. The question for the Church of England to resolve is that should these interruptions be allowed to continue, much as the now “traditional” comments by Dennis Skinner are an accepted precursor to the Queen’s Speech. [Back]
July 20th, 2016
At the last four consecrations of female bishops the same objector has asked to voice the same objection. In St Paul’s Cathedral last September he was swiftly ushered from the centre as he began to speak; at York last November he was required to remain outside the Minster; at Westminster Abbey in February he was given a microphone to speak; at Canterbury last month the Dean announced during his welcome that the objector would be speaking, and he was given space to speak.
I hope we can now say that his objection has been fully voiced and that from this point onwards consecration services should proceed without his objection being given space.
After the Westminster Abbey consecration, WATCH wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking that such interruptions to the service cease to be enabled. We were assured that such practices were not enabled, but that there could be no guarantee that they would not occur without warning. We understand that. It is worth noting that this is not like an objection at a marriage service: here, there can be no legal objection to the consecration: the Royal mandate is read aloud under which the consecration MUST take place.
Last month in Canterbury it became clear that such objections were, it seemed, not only being enabled but were becoming a part of the liturgy: the Dean signalled this in his words of welcome. To challenge and subvert this, the Chair of WATCH, in an unplanned and unexpected act, walked out when the objector began to give voice, speaking over him with the words ‘I resist this expression of discrimination’. The words used echoed the words of the sermon, where we as a church had been urged to stand up against discrimination, especially in these uncertain times. The words also indicated no personal antipathy towards the objector.
I hope we do not need to rehearse the reasons why enabling such objections undermines the women being consecrated, and indeed all women, and therefore the Church as a whole. But in case we do, here is what we wrote to the Archbishop:
‘…such interruptions create the perception that the Church is willing to allow a woman who has been called by God and the Church, and appointed by the Crown, to be publicly insulted and undermined. If that is so, it undermines and insults all women: and especially women for whom female bishops are potent symbols of a radical shift in the Church’s treatment of women. ‘Maybe things haven’t changed at all, underneath’, they might conclude.’
At the next consecration of female bishops, we hope that things will be arranged differently. Deans carry the responsibility for what happens within the buildings concerned, so if you wish to add your voice to this hope, please do write to them … You may wish to copy your letter to the Archbishops and to WATCH email@example.com. [Back]
For a more detailed analysis see our later post, Acclamation, assent and disruption