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Women bishops: the vote (continued)

Gerald O'Brien (Rochester) said that one group wanted the Synod to move to women bishops as soon as possible, "yesterday, if possible". The other group said it was a development entirely in the wrong direction. One group was saying to the other that they would concede women bishops to them if they would concede support.

"We have been ungenerous, and we have not got a common mind. We have a code of practice that is exactly what they said would not be enough." But, he warned, the experience in the United States would suggest that. while you could force people out of the Church of England, you could not force them out of the Anglican Communion. Other provinces would provide what the Church of England did not.

He hoped that some "merciful" person would move that the Synod pass to other business. No one so moved, and members of Synod, who had hitherto been relatively well-behaved, hissed the speaker.

Canon Killwick said that there was now so little left of the code of practice that it was not worth having. "This won't do." The first problem was one of ecclesiology. Any complementary bishop would be functioning with the authority of the diocesan bishop, and that was where the problem lay.

In Catholic ecclesiology this was a matter of conscience. A code, however strong, would not meet the need. Second, although the code would have teeth, these would be effective only through legal procedures that would be expensive. "Do we want ecclesiastical matters settled through civil courts?"

Third, it was a question of trust. First, they had been told that what those who wanted women bishops offered was a single clause measure and a code of practice. "Now they are about to withdraw the code of practice."

The Revd Mark Beach (Coventry) said that women could do nothing about their gender, but people could do a lot about what they thought about it. He longed for women in the episcopate as a fundamental feature of his inclusive theology, "but, by the same token, I don't want to exclude anyone." The motion gave the Manchester group the opportunity to give the Synod a strong code of practice that would let those who opposed women in the episcopate to stay. "We can give a lead in the direction of reconciliation."

Canon Cotton's amendment was lost in all Houses. Bishops 1-35-4; Clergy 38-129-5; Laity 44-129-7.

The Vicar General of York, His Honour Thomas Coningsby, attending the Synod for the last time after continuous attendance over 38 years, said that he wanted by his amendment to increase the strength of the code so that all would be required to follow it. He could not see any reason why the bishops should want to retain residual discretion. The code of practice could be in the form of a regulation, the breach of which would be enforceable under the Church's own ecclesiastical Measure and would not need recourse to a judicial review.

The Archbishop of York rose to disagree with his Vicar-General. He said that the requirement to "have regard" to the code was the same as that found in all other codes of practice. He quoted House of Lords guidance on the legal effect of such a code, and said that it was enough, while allowing the drafting group freedom to develop the code.

The amendment was lost.

The debate then returned to the main motion as amended (by the addition of the word "statutory" to the code of conduct and by the reference to a decision by the majority of the Synod).

Canon Dr Alan Hargrave (Ely) said that the Synod seemed more "grumpy" since it had returned from supper. Many godly women had not threatened to leave the Church of England, even though many had not been able to exercise the ministry to which they were clearly called, and for which they were equipped. They did not now say that if the vote went against them that they would go.

So he hoped there would be "generous provision" to the objectors in a code of practice. "I hope you will say that, 'Despite considerable provocation, I will not leave the Church.' That is the test of loyal Anglicanism."

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Stephen Venner, said that he would be 40 years ordained this year, and he had been in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate since he had become a bishop. But he had asked himself if he felt sad or ashamed at the way the debate had proceeded.

"For the first time in my life, I feel ashamed. We have talked for hours to give an honourable place to those with whom we disagree. We have turned down almost every realistic opportunity for those to flourish. We have even rejected fresh expressions of dioceses."

The Rochester report said that there were a variety of ways in which scripture and tradition could be read with integrity. It should be possible for those who did not accept the development of women bishops to remain with integrity as loyal members of the Church of England, and they should have legal safeguards so they could flourish.

"I have heard a lot of people wanting to follow 'my integrity'." But where was the broad Church of England? "Is this the Church of England at its best? I doubt it. Is it the Church to which I thought I belonged? I have to say, with great sadness, I doubt it."

At this point, the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, sought an adjournment. He said that the Synod, in insisting on having the debate on women bishops, had arrived at a place it should not be. "The right time is not a week before Lambeth. It is a bad decision." There were "lots of people who would love us to do something deeply divisive before Lambeth".

It was against his instinct to seek an adjournment, but like St Paul in the middle of a storm, who, after telling them, "I told you so," brought the ship safely to land, he wanted the Synod to do something truly radical and break bread together at 7.30 a.m. the next day, "and pray we may all come safely to land".

Bishop Packer supported the motion for an adjournment, because this had been an effective way of bringing the Synod "to a better place" when it had adjourned the February debate on parochial fees. This would give the Synod a chance to pause, and give the House of Bishops time to think where they had got to, especially in the light of the vote on his amendment, which had more votes for it than against it.

The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler (Southwark), said: "We have clearly said we want to ordain women as bishops. That is radical." To hold back now would bring in a period of uncertainty. "We need to get on with the job." In February, the Synod could look at the details. "To delay will be to prolong the agony in an unbearable way."

The adjournment motion was lost: 180-203-9.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, said that, in the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer, the bishop was called to feed the sheep, the Body of Christ. Episcopal ministry was to feed the body. Who was it who first fed the body of Christ? It was, of course, Mary. If a woman could feed the body of Christ in the flesh, why could not a woman feed the body of Christ in the spirit, he asked.

The motion as amended was put and carried: Bishops 28 for, 12 against, 1 recorded abstention; Clergy 124 for, 44 against, 4 recorded abstentions; Laity 111 for, 68 against, 2 recorded abstentions. It read:

That this Synod:

(a) affirm that the wish of its majority is for women to be admitted to the episcopate;

(b) affirm its view that special arrangements be available, within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests;

(c) affirm that these should be contained in a statutory national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard; and

(d) instruct the legislative drafting group, in consultation with the House of Bishops, to complete its work accordingly, including preparing the first draft of a code of practice, so that the Business Committee can include first consideration of the draft legislation in the agenda for the February 2009 group of sessions.

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