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Bishops look to woman priest to salvage women-bishops legislation

13 September 2012

The Revd Janet Appleby

The Revd Janet Appleby

THE House of Bishops, meeting this week to rescue the women-bishops legislation, has adopted an amendment suggested by a woman priest.

The House met on Wednesday to find a way out of the impasse over the legislation. In July, the General Synod declined to vote on the final wording, after the House had inserted clause 5(1)(c), which stated that the Code of Practice should cover "the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration of women" of the PCC in a traditionalist parish.

Opponents of women bishops quietly welcomed the clause, but many supporters found it unacceptable, and threatened to vote against the legislation if it remained. As a result, the final vote was postponed until an extraordinary meeting of the General Synod in November, giving the Bishops time to reconsider.

In a consultation exercise during the summer, there appeared to have been no shift in the entrenched positions. Almost all the preferences recorded favoured either the retention of 5(1)(c), or its removal. None of the rewordings suggested by the steering committee attracted any great interest.

But on Wednesday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that the House of Bishops had voted to accept a new version of the amendment submitted by the Revd Janet Appleby, Team Vicar in the Willington Team and Vicar and Minister in the Church of the Good Shepherd Local Ecumenical Project in Wallsend, Tyne & Wear.

It reads that the Code should cover "the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which Parochial Church Councils issue Letters of Request under section 3".

Letters of Request are the means whereby a traditionalist parish asks for a new priest or for episcopal oversight by someone other than the diocesan bishop.

Dr Williams said: "It is particularly significant and welcome that the new text emerged not from the House of Bishops itself but rather from a serving woman priest."

The statement reported that Mrs Appleby's amendment had received "overwhelming support from the House of Bishops in both their discussions and in the final vote.

"In discussion the Bishops welcomed the simplicity of the new text, its emphasis on respect and the process of dialogue with parishes that it will promote."

Mrs Appleby said on Thursday that she had "come close to despair" at the July Synod meeting. She had spent a lot of time, she said, listening to a lot of people at the Synod, "even people I disagree with vehemently - but that's life".

When the consultation was announced, at the end of July, she consulted colleagues and friends, including those who oppose women bishops. She then worked on a new wording with her husband, just before going on holiday in early August.

"Nothing is going to please everybody; but something was needed to show that women are valued in the Church, but so are those who, in conscience, cannot accept their ministry.

"I would like to see women bishops, but I hope we can find a way forward that also shows courtesy to those who disagree."

She said that she had been surprised to be named, and had expected others to submit suggested amendments.

Dr Williams said that, in the view of the House of Bishops, the revised text "expresses both our conviction of the need to see this legislation passed, and our desire to honour the conscience and contribution of those in the Church of England whose reservations remain. . .

"I am convinced that the time has come for the Church of England to be blessed by the ministry of women as bishops and it is my deep hope that the legislation will pass in November."

Podcast: Archbishop speaks about women bishops draft legislation

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