THE possibility that the women-bishops
Measure could fall at the final vote in November appeared
substantial this week, after members of the General Synod on both
sides of the debate voiced their opposition to it. But WATCH now
reports that a majority of its members are in favour.
Writing in today's Church
Times, the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, who is in
favour of women bishops, says that he could not support the
Measure. He challenges the claim that rejecting it would be
"disastrous": "this is a poor argument, if the underlying proposal
He cites three concerns: the apparent
assumption that admitting women to the episcopate is "inevitable";
the destruction of the "sacramental unity of the episcopate"; and
the impact on ecumenical relations. The Church should, he suggests,
wait until "80 per cent or more" are in favour of the change, "and
then proceed without the qualifications that are currently
enshrined in the Measure and its prospective Code".
A proponent of women bishops, the
Vicar of St Pancras Parish Church, London, Canon Anne Stevens, also
rejects the "apocalyptic warnings" of those urging a yes vote. In a
letter, she states that "the effect of what is proposed in the
Measure clearly is discriminatory", and refers to the exemptions
from the Equality Act (2010) contained within it.
The Church of England should consider
"non-legislative alternatives", she suggests, warning that the
"uneasy compromise" of the Measure could create further
On Monday, the chairmen of the
Catholic Group in General Synod, Canon Simon Killwick, and of
Reform, Prebendary Rod Thomas, launched a briefing opposing the
Measure: Women Bishops Legislation "Not Fit For
Purpose". Sent to all members of the Synod at the weekend,
it warns that the draft legislation is "fatally flawed". This is
because it "relies on specially appointed bishops for
traditionalists, but does not guarantee that any will be
appointed". The authors argue that, "despite the fact that nearly
one in ten members of Synod are Evangelicals who do not subscribe
to women bishops, there are no serving bishops of their persuasion
in the Church of England at all."
The briefing also argues that the
provision for traditionalists is "very uncertain", because it is
"unclear what showing 'respect' might involve". The Measure, as
amended by the House of Bishops on 12 September - using the
"Appleby amendment" (
News, 14 September) - states that the Code of Practice
accompanying the Measure should cover selection of bishops which
"respects the grounds on which Parochial Church Councils issue
Letters of Request".
Another concern voiced in the briefing
is that the Code has not yet been debated or agreed by the Synod,
and cannot be directly enforced. In addition, the Measure "does not
reflect what the Bible teaches about the equality of men and women
and how differences between them are to be reflected in their
The two chairmen pledge that if the
Synod declines to approve the draft Measure, they will commit
themselves to seeking agreement about a better way forward.
Supporters of the Measure also spoke
out this week. On Monday, the campaign group WATCH published the
results of its consultation on the draft legislation, stating that
"the balance of opinion in our constituency is now firmly in favour
of this legislation passing." This represented a change from the
"very deep and passionate division" evident in conversations
immediately after the publication of the Appleby amendment.
Although supporters of WATCH retained
"a number of reservations", and there remained a "strong minority
view" that the legislation was discriminatory and should be
opposed, a "significant majority" now wanted to see it gain final
approval this month. The package was "good enough", said the Revd
Rachel Weir, who chairs WATCH.
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Sheffield,
the Rt Revd Steven Croft, delivered a video message of support for
the Archbishop of Canterbury's "Enough Waiting" campaign, speaking
of the wishes of the "overwhelming majority of dioceses".
"The society we serve wants us to make
a positive decision, to take action and to move on," he said.
"However long we keep talking, we will not find a better fit than
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, and a member of the General Synod, also recorded a message of
When she first offered her suggested
amendment, she had found it "personally painful", and had "feared
this was a compromise too far", she said. She had, however, become
convinced that the Measure should now be passed - "ironically",
because it "has not satisfied any of the pressure groups at all
ends of the spectrum of the Church of England".
This was, perhaps, "inevitable", given
the "fault line developed between two irreconcilable views". But
the Measure "has given us a way out of our impasse . . . because it
requires all of us . . . to commit to trusting one another and
respecting each others' theological convictions".
On Sunday, a website was launched to
encourage churchgoers to lobby members of General Synod to vote in
favour of the Measure. The "Yes 2 Women Bishops" initiative was
launched by the Church Mouse, a blogger, assisted by Rebecca
Swinson, a member of the Archbishops' Council, and Vicky Beeching,
a theologian who is studying social media at Durham University.
The website, which enables visitors to
email their representa-tives at General Synod, argues that to
reject the Measure would mean "plunging the Church into another
five years of argument with no prospect of a better alternative on
Question of the week: Is further
discussion likely to produce anything better?