Reading for Lent
British Baptist Scholars (4) Ralph P. Martin

Book Review: Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England by Maggi Dawn (DLT, 2013)

Maggi Dawn, Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England (DLT, 2013), 78pp.

It seems a long time ago, but actually only 3 and a bit months, since the General Synod of Church of England failed to vote in favour for women bishops. In that short space of time Maggi Dawn has written this response. It's short, readable, personal and powerful. I'm not a member of the Church of England, but the book deserves and demands a wider readership than those who are.

The first chapter makes the point that it is theologically a nonsense to affirm women as priests but to deny their possible recognition as Bishops. She offers a way forward in terms of a 'process of reception', a period of saying 'let's try this, with the open possibility that we may be wrong and so with space to reverse decision'. While I think this is a helpful way forward, a counter argument here might be that, it would be very hard to stop ordaining women as priests and bishops, once you had started ... in fact, it would be extremely damaging to in terms of the church's public image. She also suggests that there must be a way of accommodating the diversity of view in the church, although recognising that currently it is those against women in ministry who are protected, and not women ministers themselves, who, has the third chapter demonstrates, have experienced and suffered all too often appalling rudeness and more. 

The second chapter explores a spirituality of waiting, which can sometimes be a failure to overcome injustice and miss the fact that God is waiting for us. In short let's put waiting in its right place (Maggi has elsewhere talked about the importance of a waiting spirituality) and not use it as an excuse to defend a slowness that defies belief. 

The third chapter is the most raw and difficult to read. It is a story not heard enough.  Anyone who has had the privileged of being taught, led, or cared for by Maggi Dawn, must surely find it incredible to hear the abuse suffered. It makes me angry that this can be excused and overlooked. Her story is also, I'm sure, not unique. The Church of England is poorer for her absence. The Church of England is also the poorer for its failure to see women fulfil the role of bishop, its a denial of their gifts and vocation.

The book is best seen as a cry - a reasoned, powerful and passionate cry - that the Church of England decided for or against women in ministry. The current position being incoherent and damaging to all women priests. It is a cry that wants to continue to allow space for those who for reasons of conscience are unable to affirm women priests, but at the same time, see a culture change which enables women to flourish in a positive atmosphere, where their ministry is not continually being questioned or disparaged. 

Hopefully the Church of England has ears to hear, and other parts of the church, like the Baptists to whom I belong, recognise that many women ministers find themselves in a similar positions.

A final point is to say that Maggi Dawn is an excellent writer and theologian and here's hoping that it won't be too long before the next book.





Thanks for this, Andy. I read a short extract from this which Maggi tweeted this week, and have ordered a copy.

I was at a Quaker event when I got the news of the General Synod's vote, and I couldn't decide whether I was more angry or upset. It is a difficult thing to respond to.

My initial response was to withdraw from Eucharistic communion within the Church. Because the Eucharist seems to be the main, visible location in which episcopal ministry is exercised in the CofE. You're confirmed by a Bishop, and then you can take part in the Eucharist (or, more recently, Bishops may grant permission for children to be admitted pre-confirmation, and set whatever limits on this they see fit). Bishops determine who can serve communion alongside the president. Bishops may excommunicate.

So it seemed to me that excommunicating myself, as it were, might be the only form of protest I could make. Since the vote, I have taken communion only once in an Anglican church (Ash Wednesday), when the president was a female priest.

It is a flawed protest, and a painful one, but one I think is necessary.

Gerald Bray

Thanks for this post. I read the book and had a somewhat different reaction. Maggi Dawn (like other women who share her views) is strong on the hurt that women have supposedly suffered, but the problem is that such claims are anecdotal and seldom (if ever) verified. You have to take their word for it, and it is highly subjective. In fact, it is not the women who are suffering but the opponents of women's ordination, who have been systematically marginalized and now risk being excluded altogether. the appalling attack on Dr Philip Giddings, chairman of the House of Laity in General Synod, who voted against the proposed legislation (even though he is in favour of women bishops in principle) shows more clearly than anything that all the talk about being fair and showing grace to the minority is nonsense. There is a real danger that when these women get want they want they will exact revenge on all those who have opposed them, claiming their own sense of victimhood as their justification. This is the real danger.

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