This slight book is a personal reflection on the debate in the Church of England over the ordination of women to the priesthood, and more recently as bishops.
It is bang up to date: it was finished in December 2012, just a month after the vote by the House of Laity in General Synod which brought the current plans to admit women as bishops to a juddering halt.
You won’t find a detailed explanation of the objections to the ordination of women in this book. It doesn’t set out to re-examine and answer the main objections from the ‘Catholic’ wing (that the priest is an ikon of Christ, and a woman cannot be such an ikon because she is not male like Christ) or the ‘evangelical’ wing (that the Bible declares that in the Church and the home the male must be the ‘head’ of the female, so no female can exercise authority over the male).
In the first part, Maggi Dawn describes the way that the Church of England arrived at the impasse of the November 2012 vote, and suggests a way out, using the same process of ‘reception’ that was advocated in 1992, when women were admitted to the priesthood. In the second, she shares some reflections on the theology of waiting, including asking why there is a cultural expectation that women will ‘wait politely’, and questioning whether doing so can be, in effect, colluding with injustice.
She ends the second section by speaking about the ‘silent exodus’ of talented women ministers who are no longer prepared to continue to work in a church that excludes or devalues women. In the third section, she describes her own experience of feeling called to ordination, theological college and working as a deacon and priest, which led her to join this ‘exodus’. So much of this is painfully familiar to any woman, not just the ordained, who ministers in the Church of England.
If you don’t believe that women can be ordained, or exercise leadership in the church, there is no point in you reading this book, since you are unlikely to be convinced by Maggi Dawn’s gentle arguments. If you do believe women are called to be priests and bishops, then read it; it will annoy you, frustrate you, and inform you about the true cost of the interminable delays that women called to ordained ministry have had to suffer over the last 30 years since the Church of England decided “there were no fundamental theological objections to the ordination of women”.
Read it particularly if you are among those many people in the Church of England who feel that if only further steps are taken to accommodate those people who object to women’s ordination, the Church of England will be able to sail on happily into the future, even if, as one of Maggi Dawn’s contacts remarked, it is “like a world-class ocean liner powered by the engine of a lawn-mower”. I believe that Maggi Dawn’s passionate writing should convince you that to delay further, and to undermine the authority of female bishops in this way, is to incur too great a cost .Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England