FROM the outset in this whole debate, the General Synod has
signalled that it wants to do two things. One is to remove the
legal obstacle to women becoming bishops. The second is to make
arrangements so that those who are unable to receive the ministry
of women priests or bishops on theological grounds can nevertheless
remain within the Church of England.
Between 2006 and July 2008, the last Synod struggled to come to
a view on what those arrangements might be. At one end of the
spectrum, some people wanted no national framework, so that
arrangements would be entirely local to each diocese.
At the other end were ideas of creating wholly new structures,
for example a third province, or additional dioceses where the
traditionalist bishops would exercise jurisdiction.
In July 2008, however, the Synod rejected both of these
approaches. It also came down against anything that would modify or
qualify a diocesan bishop's ability to exercise ordinary
jurisdiction throughout the diocese.
This was the legislation that came to the General Synod and
narrowly failed in November 2012.
THE 2013 working group went back to consider all the views about
arrangements for those unable to accept that women be admitted to
the episcopate, and set out four possible options for
These are arrangements within the 2009 to 2012 spectrum, as
there was no evidence that the "extreme" ends of the spectrum
rejected in 2008 would command the necessary majority in the
The group's report set out five elements of a possible vision
around which all those who aspire to keep the Church of England as
a broad Church might be able to gather. There remain varying views
over the best means of achieving those ends, but the main
difference from the past is that everything must be on the table
before the final vote.
The distinction between the options is as follows:
The Measure and amending canon would make it lawful for women to
become bishops, and would repeal the statutory rights to pass
Resolutions A and B under the 1993 Measure. In addition, the 1993
Act of Synod would be rescinded.
There would be arrangements for those with theological
difficulties over the priestly and episcopal ministry of women.
They would be set out either in a formal declaration by the House
of Bishops or, if the Synod so preferred, in a new Act of
Neither a declaration nor an Act of Synod could create legal
rights and duties; so they would, in effect, be setting out
expectations of what should happen. In addition, the House of
Bishops' report says that it would put in place a mediation process
for addressing grievances from parishes that believed that they had
not been treated consistently with the agreed arrangements.
This would be the same as Option One, in that it would not
create enforceable rights and duties; but it would make it harder
for them to be changed subsequently. This would be achieved by
writing into the legislation a provision that it could not come
into force until the Act of Synod (which would have been made
before final approval) setting out the arrangements also came into
In addition, the Measure would provide that the Act of Synod
could not be changed in future without special majorities.
This would go a stage further, by retaining, in a modified form,
the present ability of PCCs to pass Resolutions A and B in relation
to the ministry of women priests.
Arrangements in relation to episcopal ministry would, however,
be set out in a declaration from the House of Bishops rather than
Under this approach, all the relevant arrangements would be set
out in legislation. This would mean that enforceable rights and
duties could be created.
The Rt Revd Nigel Stock is Bishop of St Edmundsbury &
Ipswich. He chaired the working group that produced the four
Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become
bishops, the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally
committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all,
without reference to gender, and
will hold that those whom
it has duly ordained and ap-
pointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office
which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical
Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must then be
prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a
clear decision on the matter;
Since it will continue to share the historic episcopate
with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the
Orthodox Church, and those provinces of the Anglican Communion
which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church
of England will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry
and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within
the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of
theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women
bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of
teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of
England will remain committed to enabling them to flourish within
its life and structures; and
Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within
the Church of Eng-land will be made without specifying a limit of
time, and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of
communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole
Church of England.
From the reports of the Working Group Women in
the Episcopate, and the House of Bishops.