Andrew Dunsmore/REX

CofE votes to allow women bishops

Mon 14 Jul 2014
By Antony Bushfield

The Church of England has voted to allow the ordination of women bishops, two years after members of the General Synod struck down previous legislation.

Monday's vote received the two-thirds majority it needed in each of the three houses of the General Synod to pass, with members of the laity on this occasion overturning their previous opposition to the move.

House of Bishops: Yes 37  No 2  Abstentions 1
House of Clergy: Yes 162  No 25  Abstentions 4
House of Laity: Yes 152  No 45  Abstentions 5

In 2012 the laity fell six votes short of the required two thirds majority among lay members, despite being backed by almost three quarters of the synod.

The yes vote will be a relief to many in the Church's hierarchy who had feared another rejection of the legislation would have damaged its "credibility" in today's society.

Speaking before the vote the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said from the general public's perspective, the exclusion of women was "incomprehensible".

Church legislators have been working tirelessly over the past two years to cater for some traditionalists who remained largely opposed to women holding positions of authority within the Church.

As part of the updated terms, the House of Bishops introduced five guiding principles including the installation of an ombudsman who would settle any potential diocesan disputes between any women bishops and traditional Anglicans.

Most Revd Justin Welby has already indicated that the first women bishop could now be ordained by Christmas.

He said: "Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted with today's result. Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases disagreeing.

"The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds.

"Very few institutions achieve this, but if we manage this we will be living our more fully the call of Jesus Christ to love one another.

"As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of those within the Church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow.

"My aim, and I believe the aim of the whole church, should be to be able to offer a place of welcome and growth for all. Today is a time of blessing and gift from God and thus of generosity. It is not winner take all, but in love a time for the family to move on together."

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said: "This is a momentous day. Generations of women have served the Lord faithfully in the Church of England for centuries. It is a moment of joy today: the office of Bishop is open to them.

"To those who ask ‘what took you so long?’ my answer is that every decision has a cost and there will be those within our body who will be hurting as a result of this decision. Our answer to the hurting should not be ‘get over it’ but rather 'we will not let go until you have blessed us.'

"We move slowly because we move together. But in moving together we achieve not only what is just but also model what is right. As the African Proverb says: ‘Whoever walks fast, travels alone. Whoever walks far, walks in the company of others’."

Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Revd Nicholas Holtam said: "This historic decision has rightly opened up the episcopate to all, regardless of gender.

"Although this is a new departure for England, it should be noted that Anglican women are already bishops in nine other countries. In some countries, women bishops have now been serving for a quarter of a century.

"I was particularly pleased by the principled and generous spirit in which this debate took place. I look forward to helping ensure that spirit continues to nurture a Church in which all can flourish, including the minority who cannot, in conscience, support this step."

The Bishop of Portsmouth, The Rt Revd Christopher Foster, has also welcomed the vote.

"I welcome the vote that women as well as men can be called to be bishops in the Church of England. This decision is later than many had hoped, but it is made now with substantial support across the church and with trust and understanding of the differences that there have been.

"It opens all ministry to everyone and will enable all God's gifts to his people and church to be used in the service of the Gospel. The Diocese of Portsmouth is well served by lay and ordained Christians, among them both men and women priests, bringing compassion, insight and creativity to their work in communities, parishes and chaplaincies.

"As we look forward I am committed to all of us, whatever our view on the principle of this decision, being respected partners in witness and service to the people of this area." He said.

Sally Barnes was Synod and is delighted: "I'm just overwhelmed and pleased that this has happened, more than I can possibly tell you today because it will make a difference to the church, it will make a difference to the way the church is being perceived by the country”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tweeted:

Well done to @JustinWelby for his leadership on securing a yes vote for women bishops. This is a big moment for the @c_of_e

Former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe left the Church of England over its decision to welcome women priests - she believes it goes against the Bible's teachings: "It's nothing to do with a women’s qualities or a career move.

"It's purely theological, it's purely can it happen?

"Now I say no and therefore I also obviously say no it can't happen with bishops.

"But the Church of England, for the last 20 years, has had it both ways."

Lorna Ashworth is a non-clergy member of the General Synod, who was against women bishops.

She doesn't think it'll mean huge division: "We serve a God who's bigger than this and so our vision is to go forward.

"There is no notion that over this issue we should leave the church. I don't think we should." She said.

It's 20 years since the first Church of England women priests were ordained, with nearly 1,800 women making up the 8,000 full-time priests in the Church.

There are currently 108 male bishops in place in the UK, with 28 Anglican women bishops around the world.

Meanwhile, on Sunday the Synod approved legislation that offers an alternative text for baptism that would remove references to the devil.

Previously parents were asked whether they would "reject the devil and all rebellion against God", "renounce the deceit and corruption of evil" and "repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour".

The new alternative will only ask that they "turn away from sin" and "reject evil".

Premier's view from the General Synod press gallery

Revd Cindy Kent was at the vote and has given her reaction to Premier:

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