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Synod makes a new start on women bishops in York

12 July 2013

by Ed Thornton, Madeleine Davies, Gavin Drake, and Glyn Paflin in York

sam atkins

Group discussion: one of the small groups that met 'behind closed doors' on Saturday to discuss the debates

Group discussion: one of the small groups that met 'behind closed doors' on Saturday to discuss the debates

THE General Synod has asked for new legislation to be drafted to enable women to be bishops. After a long debate on Monday morning and afternoon, it carried a motion from the House of Bishops embodying Option One ( News, 31 May), which was amended so as to specify the addition of a mandatory grievance procedure for parishes, and to urge that "facilitated conversations" continue to be used during the legislative process.

Amendments seeking to make provision for opponents by Measure or regulations made under Canon, "for co-provincial provision for alternative episcopal oversight", and to retain Resolutions A and B for parish churches combined with a new Act of Synod all fell.

WATCH welcomed the passing of Option One, and said that facilitated small-group discussions, carried out behind closed doors on Saturday, had contributed to a better "tone" of debate. Traditionalists were heartened that the Synod had shown a commitment to providing for opponents. All sides welcomed the continuation of "facilitated discussions", under the guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury's director of reconciliation, David Porter.

During the debate, many speakers responded positively to a suggestion from the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, that for this legislation the Synod should dispense with a revision committee, which could be "awful", he said, as in the way it had unpicked the previous legislation, and instead have an enlarged steering committee, which would include "people from pressure groups and no groups at all". This, he hoped, would break the deadlock. Members who agreed with him included the phrase "I agree with Pete", at his invitation, in their speeches.

Voting was at times close in the House of Laity. Although Synod members spoke of moving away from previous patterns of debate, in fact several votes were taken by the Synod dividing into Houses. The motion was carried by 319 votes to 84, with 22 abstentions.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "We came to a grinding halt last November. We've got some momentum back into the process." 

Archbishop Welby conceded that there "is not two-thirds in each House. There is a strong desire to get it done. . . It is going to take a little while, [and we are] going to have to go on working at it. There has been such a shift in mood over the last six months, but as ever I remain extremely optimistic."

He described it as an "electrified ring-fence process, which should give people enough assurance of provision to be able to stay within the Church".

WATCH said in a statement issued after the vote that it was "pleased that the House of Bishops' preferred option received overwhelming support from the General Synod. . . The positive experience of the facilitated conversations [on Saturday] was reflected in the tone of the debates. WATCH remains committed to full engagement with the ongoing process."

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Durham) wrote on her blog, on Tuesday: "Nobody spoke against the principle of having women as bishops. That was a huge change from November, when what was meant to be a debate on specific legislation became open season on the ordination of women."

The Catholic Group in General Synod said that it welcomed "the clear commitment of the General Synod to make provision for all in the Church of England". It was "fully supportive of a new kind of process involving facilitated conversations", as outlined by Bishop Broadbent.

It continued: "It is clear, from the voting on a number of amendments, that the amended Option One will need a considerable amount of further work in order to build a sufficient consensus for when it comes to the Synod for Final Approval in 2015."

A statement from Forward in Faith, issued on Tuesday, said: "Naturally, we are very disappointed that none of the amendments which would have ensured secure provision for those unable to receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests was passed. However, we are encouraged by the significant minorities, especially in the House of Laity, which did vote for such provision.

"We are confident that these votes, and the commitment which they represent on the part of many to a genuinely inclusive Church of England, in which all may flourish, will not be overlooked as the process moves forward."

Speaking during the debate, Dr Paula Gooder (Birmingham) said that members of the Synod might have noticed that on 20 November, at the end of the debate ( News, 23 November), she had not been "ecstatically happy". On reflection, this was because she had felt that she had seen "us mauling our own small part of the body of Christ. I felt as though we were savaging each other. I want to say, we must never do that again. We have a chance now to grasp a new future."

But Vivienne Goddard (Blackburn) warned the Synod: "We are going to end up revisiting what we have done up to now . . . knowing that it is not acceptable to a third of the House of Laity."

Canon Margaret Swinson told the Synod on Tuesday morning that the Appointments Committee, which she chairs, had met on Monday night "in order to appoint a steering committee to take charge of the preparation of draft legislation to enable the ordination of women to the episcopate in accordance with the motion passed by the General Synod".

Mindful of Bishop Broadbent's suggestion and the amendment urging "facilitated discussions" to continue, the Committee had in- vited Mr Porter "to join the meeting to provide specialist advice on how to give effect to the Synod's intentions - in particular, the appropriate size of the steering committee."

The Committee agreed to issue invitations to 15 members of the Synod, representing a breadth of views, to take part in preparatory work. The names of the steering committee would be published as soon as all those who had been invited had responded and the membership had been finally agreed, she said.

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