The General Synod has given final approval to enabling women to
become bishops in the Church of England. The draft legislation was
carried with confident majorities in all three Houses. It can now
go to the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament.
The Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of
Women) Measure needed two-thirds majorities. It was carried in the
House of Bishops by 37 to 2, with 1 recorded abstention, and in the
House of Clergy by 162 to 25, with 4 recorded abstentions. In the
House of Laity, it was carried by 152 to 45 with 5 recorded
abstentions. The Measure put before Synod in 2012 fell in the House
of Laity by just 6 votes: 132 were in favour and 74 were against,
with no abstentions.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, chairing the debates, asked
that the votes be received "with restraint and sensitivity". But he
ended the session by leading many members of the Synod in singing
"We are marching in the light of God".
Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd
James Langstaff, told the Synod that there were "many eyes and ears
which are attentive to what we say and do". But he said that, while
the Synod was aware of others, "we are here today to do what we
believe, under God, to be right."
Hopes that the Measure would be carried were raised in the
morning, as members of the laity who had helped to defeat the 2012
draft Measure stood up to explain why they would vote for the new
A speech that made a strong impact on the Synod was delivered by
Adrian Vincent, a Guildford layman who had voted against the
Measure in 2012 but intended to vote in favour, despite his
theological conviction that the Church "does not have the right to
make this change". The Measure had "just enough provision" to
enable him to vote in favour, even though this involved "betraying
what I believe and betraying those who trusted me. I hope that the
promised commitment to mutual flourishing is not one that will run
out of steam in a couple of years, but will continue for 50 and 100
Christina Rees, a St Albans lay representative and member of
WATCH, was visibly moved by Mr Vincent's contribution: "He has
shown his loyalty as an Anglican, as a member of the Church of
England, and as a responsible member of this body. He is making a
sacrifice. It has absolutely stunned me."
The Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, thanked
"those who stopped us in 2012", suggesting that what was now before
Synod was an improvement. This had come at a price. Prudence Dailey
of Oxford diocese spoke of the "bile, vitriol, and disapprobation"
received at that time.
While traditionalists spoke of their intention of voting against
the Measure on principle, they emphasised that the provision was
much improved, and spoke of their desire to work alongside those
with whom they disagreed.
Prebendary David Houlding, a London member of the Catholic
Group, said: "When we argue among ourselves, we are losing sight of
the purpose of religion to love God and serve others." Any division
was "a scandal . . . We have to go on trusting, however much it may
He was joined by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner,
however, in reminding the Synod that it was going against the
historic Catholic practice. Prebendary Houlding said that there
would be an "ecumenical price to pay with the Roman Catholic and
Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters: we are moving ahead without
Discontent was voiced by conservative Evangelicals with
increasing force as the debate went on.
Susie Leafe from Truro diocese, the director of Reform, gave an
unhappy account of her experience of the facilitated talks. She had
been told by one facilitator that the "deepest concerns of
conservative Evangelicals" were "off the table because I was wrong.
The Church thought I was wrong. He thought I was wrong and I just
had to suck it up."
Gerald O'Brien, of the Rochester laity, said that Evangelicals
were being asked "to give their birthright away with not a lot in
return". He questioned whether the House of Bishops had shown any
evidence of their desire to deliver on promises about enabling
traditionalists to flourish, noting that, despite plenty of
opportunities, no cleric holding the conservative position on
headship had been appointed a bishop.
As the debate drew to a close, the Archbishop of Canterbury
sought to reassure those who could not accept women bishops that,
if they put their trust in the package, they would not be
disappointed. "The House of Bishops must act on our words," he
said. "If this passes, we are going to deliver."
The last word went to John Spence of the Archbishops' Council,
who spoke of the experience of losing his sight in the late
"Things felt bleak. . . In those days, people who lost their
eyesight lost their jobs. Even my group personnel director told me
that I could not be promoted because I couldn't see. . . In the
event, I went on to become managing director of Lloyds bank and
moved that personnel manager into early retirement!"
His trust had been "fully repaid" and "given back to me in
abundance." He urged that those who were wondering whether to
abstain or even to support the vote consider that their trust, too,
would be fully repaid.
"If you can place your trust when there is not yet evidence,
your trust will not be misplaced. You will come to see that
promises will be delivered."
He concluded: "The stronger the vote we can give today, the more
confidently we can walk, hand in hand, to return this Church to
numerical and spiritual growth and to return Christ to his rightful
place at the centre of this country and its conscience."
The Synod was on its feet. Minutes later, the result was
announced. Celebrations took place outside in front of numerous