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Women bishops: This is the best option on offer

21 June 2013

Option One will let us be one Church, says Anne Stevens

LAST November's vote profoundly damaged the credibility of the Church of England in the eyes of the nation it serves.

As the House of Bishops has recognised, the impact of this on our mission, particularly among younger generations, may prove to be devastating unless the Church can act quickly and decisively to consecrate women on exactly the same basis as men, and welcome that development wholeheartedly.

When General Synod votes down a draft Measure, the subject can only be reintroduced in that Synod if the proposed legislation is substantively different. Option One clearly meets this requirement in ways that other options do not. After years of debate about legal technicalities and amendments to amendments, it offers a clear, rational and cohesive way forward for the whole Church.

WATCH particularly welcomes the statement (in s.12 of GS1886): "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 appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience."

Option One is the only option that genuinely allows all bishops to be bishops, in ways that uphold the existing order and structures of the Church of England.

Yet it also makes provision for those who will seek alternative pastoral and sacramental care, underpinning this with a new "dispute resolution procedure" for those who feel their bishop is not complying with the agreed national framework (s.14). In contrast to previous arrangements, this system could genuinely fulfil the Church's desire to operate "in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion" (s.12).

I served on the steering and revision committees that painstakingly explored all the options last time around, and one of the recurrent sticking points was that so many of the proposals effectively sought to create a Church within a Church.

It is time to be one Church, working through our differences in the same room. WATCH therefore welcomes the facilitated discussions scheduled for the July Synod, and trusts that these will help Synod members explore the new proposals in a collaborative and constructive manner. The future mission of our Church depends on it.

The Revd Anne Stevens, Vicar of St Pancras, in London, is vice-chair of WATCH.

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