Insights from the UK and beyond
Synod avoids cataclysm over women bishops
More than 280 members of the General Synod, or governing body, voted in favour of sending draft legislation and a code of practice to a revision committee, ensuring its continued progress.
The church will still take its time over the legislation, with no woman bishop likely to be installed before 2014.
But as Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, said: “I believe we must go forward today however slowly the progress may be.”
Failure to have voted in favour would not have killed off the prospect of women bishops – as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said on Tuesday, the issue will not go away – but it could have delayed ordination for many years.
Anglicans in Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand already have women bishops.
But don’t be fooled. There was still widespread discontent, with 114 members voting against, and 13 abstaining.
The code of practice is a compromise, attempting to keep traditionalists within the church while satisfying liberal calls for the ordination of women, 15 years after they were ordained as priests.
The compromise would provide for “complementary bishops” in parishes which object to women bishops, giving them the chance to be supervised by men only.
But like most compromises, it failed to satisfy many on both sides. Traditionalists and liberals variously described the code as “a jigsaw put together by a hammer”, “an unbalanced and intolerable situation” and ”fractured”.
The Revd. Rod Thomas, of Exeter diocese, argued he felt he was still being excluded by the code because it was such an “uncertain instrument and only becomes certain when it is being examined in secular courts”.
Another reason for exclusion, he said, was because it would operate on the discretion of the diocese bishop.
“This leaves us very clearly with the feeling that our ministry in the church is simply being tolerated rather than we are being given space where our ministry is encouraged to flourish,” he added.
He said trainees were considering their future in the church because of this uncertainty.
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, chaplain to Durham University, asked the traditionalists who reject the code to “please understand how great a sacrifice you are asking women to make in accepting this legislation based on a code of practice and please do be prepared to meet us half way as this draft legislation suggests”.
Self-confessed moderate Anne Martin, of the Guildford diocese, said: “My greatest fear is what will happen if this draft legislation is rejected and we have to start again. How will we feel if we have to go back to the drawing board? What will the wider membership of the Church of England and those outside it think if we continue to wrangle and apparently self-destruct?”
She said a rejection would only “prolong the agony” of the inevitable ordination.