Gimme Five! I'm going to church because of women bishops
How many teenagers in your local Anglican parish church?
Unless you happen to live in the parish of All Souls Langham Place or Holy Trinity Brompton in London or Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle or Christ Church Fulwood in Sheffield, you can hug a teenage hoody at a bus stop (or exchange a high five with one) but not generally in an Anglican church.
Your local Anglican Church is not alone in experiencing a famine of teenagers. Tim Thornborough in his outstanding article last year in the evangelical magazine The Briefing - Does the future have a church? - distilled the findings of church statistician Dr Peter Brierley: 'The generation for whom church-going was part of their culture is dying off, but the church is missing an ability to replace the dying saints with new ones.' So let’s turn to look at what is going on at the other end of the age spectrum. This is where the stats for all UK churches present a truly frightening picture. Take a deep breath and read on!
39% of churches have no-one attending under 11 years of ageDoes anyone realistically think appointing women bishops will defuse the demographic time bomb?
49% of churches have no-one attending between the ages of 11 and 14
59% of churches have no-one attending between the ages of 15 and 19
The arguments for women bishops are varied. They range from the purported leadership deficiencies of an all-male House of Bishops to the claim that to refuse to consecrate women as bishops amounts to denying that men and women are made equally in the image of God.
The Roman Catholic journalist Melanie McDonagh has ably exposed the theological absurdity of that latter contention in the London Evening Standard: 'I’ve got no business, myself, getting involved, given that I’m a Catholic and we don’t actually believe that any of them (male or female Anglican priests) are properly ordained. But I do get a bit restive when I hear the likes of the Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, one of the many media-friendly female clerics, declaring that “the whole point of having women bishops was to say that the Church of England believes that women and men are equal and made in the image of God. I do not want it enshrined in law that we officially do not believe that.” Hang on there. Our lot don’t have women bishops either but I’ve never had any problems on being made in the image of God, thanks all the same, Miranda.'
The Threlfall-Holmes argument could be extended to saying that the refusal to appoint a person to church leadership because they do not have the necessary ability to expound the Scriptures amounts to denying that they are made in the image of God.
God does not confer the public teaching office on all Christians; only on some. In that sense, God is discriminatory. But such divine discrimination in the conferring of his gift of teaching the Faith does not mean for one moment that church administrators, sidespeople, or those on the coffee rota are any less made in the image of God or lesser members of the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Back in the 1990s, one of the arguments put forward for the ordination of women by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, was that the church would put itself out of touch with modern society if it did not have women vicars.
But despite women being ordained priests in the years following the 1992 Synod legislation, the Church of England has continued to haemorrhage young people.
The undeniable fact of Anglican church life is that the above mentioned Christ-proclaiming churches, and many other Anglican evangelical churches around the country, have managed to attract teenagers under the ministry of male incumbents and in dioceses led by male bishops.
But for the majority of Anglican churches, no young people spells no future congregations.
If the Church of England goes ahead with appointing women bishops, the ladies in question will not require the teaching gift because there will be nobody to teach. But estate agency experience would be useful because of the large number of empty properties in their dioceses for sale or let.
Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire.