THE House of Bishops will bring a motion to the General Synod on
Monday 8 July, at its sessions in York, requesting the drafting of
new legislation to enable women to be consecrated to the
episcopate. If it is passed, this will allow time for further
debate in November, and the process could be concluded in 2015.
The Bishops envisage the legislation as "a measure and amending
canon that made it lawful for women to become bishops", and "the
repeal of the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under
the 1993 Measure" ("option one").
The House came to its decision in York on Monday of last week,
after discussing a report by a working group appointed last year,
chaired by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd
Nigel Stock (
News, 14 December). The working group was appointed after the
previous legislation fell (
News, 23 November).
In its own report, the House "endorses the working group's view
that the Church of England is at a moment where the way forward is
likely to be one which makes it difficult for anyone to claim
outright victory. The five elements of the vision need to be held
together rather than used selectively. . . :
"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 appointed to office are the true and lawful
holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due
respect and canonical obedience;
"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 England 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."
Option one was one of four considered in the working group's
report. The Bishops rejected option four, which would have placed
conscience arrangements for traditionalists in the Measure.
They gave "only limited support" to option three, which would
have provided "a House of Bishops' declaration or Act of Synod in
relation to episcopal ministry", and retained elements of the 1993
Measure in relation to priestly ministry.
Option two linked the coming into force of the Measure with that
of the new Act of Synod, using a "commencement provision", and also
included a special-majority requirement for amendment or repeal of
"In the view of most members of the House", option one would
have "the advantage of clarity and offer the best way forward".
Most of the Bishops see "a possible disadvantage" in option two,
since it "qualifies the legislative simplicity" of option one.
In option one, the working group identified either a declaration
from the House of Bishops, or a new Act of Synod, as ways in which
the Church could commit itself to maintaining diversity and making
arrangements for traditionalists.
The Bishops' report says: "The House of Bishops stands ready to
prepare a formal declaration and bring it to the Synod in draft
form, once the new legislation has started its passage through the
Synod. It would be for the Synod to decide whether it preferred to
proceed by way of Act of Synod. As explained by the working group,
there would be no difference of legal effect between the two
approaches. And the content of the document could be the same in
The House "attaches importance to including . . . a mediation
process for addressing grievances from parishes which believed that
they had not been treated consistently with the principles and
arrangements agreed nationally". All bishops, it says, would be
expected to commit themselves to this, a process that would be "a
necessary part of creating and sustaining the trust that would be
The Bishops place strong emphasis on the need for trust in this
scenario, or any other. "The central judgement therefore in
relation to any particular combination of instruments is what will
most help to create the necessary climate of trust within which
mutual flourishing can take place. Is it best to have as little law
as possible to prevent people relying on law rather than grace? Or
is some law needed to fertilise the soil within which trust may
The working group in its report had said that "any new process
needs to start from a different place from where the Synod was in
November", and that the guiding principles needed to be
"simplicity; reciprocity; and mutuality".
It urged that, under option one, "both the majority and the
minority will do all within their power to avoid giving offence to
each other. The majority will need to be sensitive to the feeling
of vulnerability that the minority has and their concern that, over
time, their position within the Church of England will gradually be
eroded (for example, through denying them access to senior
"Equally the minority will acknowledge that for many in the
Church of England any difference of treatment between men and women
is profoundly problematic, not because they are primarily guided by
secular understandings of equality but because of their theological
convictions about the nature of the Church and of baptism.
"The outworking of reciprocity will also mean that those who
cannot receive the priestly or episcopal ministry of women should
not be the only ones for whom special arrangements should, in some
circumstances, be made. It is clear that, for some women, the
experience of being in a diocese where the diocesan bishop does not
ordain women to the priesthood, or indeed where no bishop ordains
women, has been hard to bear. . .
"In dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women it
will be particularly important that a bishop who is fully committed
to the ordained ministry of women is given a role across the whole
diocese for providing support for female clergy."
Speaking on Friday, Bishop Stock said: "We have a choice of
proceeding by grace or by law. As you go down the options, more law
goes into it. It seems wise to start with maximum grace and see
where that gets us; that's where the House of Bishops would like to
He said that small-group facilitated discussions among Synod
members would take place on the Saturday of the Synod sessions, and
warned of the danger of returning to "a zero-sum game". "We're
hoping people will not start to take positions and sides too soon.
. . This is a real attempt to see how we can begin to honour each
other rather than be suspicious of each other.
"People now really do want to look at a more positive way of
being together rather than being in separate silos where you have
no real contact with each other. There are various signals about
that, and a new way of working."
It would be "entirely open to anybody to produce an amendment"
in the Synod debate, but "the Bishops thought this is where we
ought to start."
The reports by the House of Bishops and the working group can be
Question of the Week: Is the Bishops' plan likely to gain
the confidence they seek?