Church of England takes new step to enable women to become bishops

(Photo: REUTERS / Andrew Winning)The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu (L), speaks next to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the General Synod in Church House in central London, November 20, 2013. The Church of England's law-making body voted in favor of female bishops on November 20, a move that ended a 20-year impasse and could see women ordained as senior clergy by the end of 2014.

The Church of England's governing body has approved a package of measures as a new step to enable women to become bishops that includes guidance for parishes that do not want to ordain females as heads of dioceses.

Members of the church's general synod voted Wednesday 378 in favour and eight against, with 25 abstentions, allowing measures for the introduction of women bishops to move to a new stage in negotiations.

"Today's overwhelming vote demonstrates the widespread desire of the Church of England to move ahead with ordaining women as bishops, and at the same time enabling those who disagree to flourish," said the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in a statement after the vote Wednesday.

"There is some way to go, but we can be cautiously hopeful of good progress."

In some provinces, as the geographical divisions within the 80-million strong Anglican Communion are called, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Australia and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, women are ordained as bishops.

Other provinces ordain women as deacons and priests but not as bishops; others still as deacons only; and seven Anglican provinces have yet to approve the ordination of women to any order of ministry.

Last year the General Synod of the Church of England was only six votes short of allowing female bishops, but lay members had blocked it.

At the time Welby, who had been chosen as Archbishop of Canterbury described the vote as "a very grim day for women and their supporters."

Welby, who is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, pledged then to seek a way of allowing women bishops that would not split the church.


"We should not open the champagne bottles or whatever drink we regard as celebratory because we need to agree to work together until the end," the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was quoted as saying by The Independent newspaper reported in London on Thursday.

The Rev. Rod Thomas, who heads a conservative evangelical group called Reform, said he had reservations over some parts of the new package, he will support it, the Guardian newspaper reported.

"In the spirit of agreement we have reached, in the spirit of wanting to achieve agreement I will vote for it," he said. "And even if at the end of the day I am unable to join the majority at synod- who I confidently expect to approve this by the required majorities - even if I am not able to join you, I shall rejoice in the measure of agreement that we have been able to reach."

Synod members noted there are still significant issues to be resolved before the latest change can be fully implemented.

The next step after the approval of the package by the General Synod will be the endorsement of another declaration in February, and final approval could be attained by November 2014 said Anglican experts.

The synod agreed on allowing a piece of legislation that would allow women to become bishops and archbishops along with a "declaration" by the Church of England setting out guidance for parishes which reject female ministry.

The new law creates an ombudsman position to mediate and rule on disputes involving traditionalist clergy opposed to the ordination of female bishops.

"These measures look to the day when the Church of England as an ecclesial entity will have made a clear decision to open all orders of ministry to women and men without distinction, whereby all those so ordained are true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy," said the Bishop of Rochester, Rev. James Langstaff, who proposed the measure.

Now that the package has been approved by General Synod, a draft declaration is expected to be endorsed at another meeting next February, and final approval is expected by November 2014.

"There is a lot of work still to be done. People will have voted in favor of this to continue the process who may or may not vote in favour of the package at the end of the day.

"So it is not over and that is a reality."

Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the vote saying in Britain's Parliament, "I strongly support women bishops and I hope the Church of England takes this key step to ensure its place as a modern church, in touch with our society."

The first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion was Barbara Harris, who was ordained suffragan bishop of Massachusetts in the United States in February 1989.

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