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The vote on Monday

11 July 2014

THE bruising of November 2012 will be in the minds of General Synod members as they gather in York today. No one could wish on the C of E a repeat of the opprobrium it received after the defeat of the first women-bishops legislation. Out of the ashes of that failure, however, has come a Measure that has brought a far greater degree of assurance for those who still have conscientious objections to women in the episcopate. Traditionalist Catholics speak warily but well of it; conservative Evangelicals appear to be less convinced, but they will have heard the Archbishops' expression of sympathy and resolve over the Church's inability to nominate anyone in that camp even to a suffragan post. Finally, those in favour of women as bishops believe that the provision being crafted for objectors will not undermine the integrity of those women who will start to be nominated - if the legislation goes through on Monday.

This remains an "if", however. As we reported last week, key Synod members - those in the House of Laity who voted against the earlier legislation out of concern for their traditionalist and conservative neighbours - have decided to vote in favour of the new Measure. We found six votes that have shifted, the exact number by which the earlier Measure fell. But this still only brings us back on to the knife edge. Believing the proposals to be workable is not the same as being in favour of them, and so traditionalists and conservatives are almost certainly to continue to press the no button on their electronic voting devices in York. They will be acting on principle, and we should expect nothing more. As with all attempts at democracy, the Anglican synodical system relies on those who participate, both as electors and those willing to stand for election. Four years ago, the present General Synod intake were the men and women chosen to represent their dioceses by those who voted in deanery synods. The nature of party activism in the C of E means that the balance of their views may never perfectly match those in the Church at large, but this can be addressed only at the time of the five-yearly elections. Even in November 2012, there was little talk of reforming the system: internal reorganisation takes up too much time and energy; but we expect to see more people galvanised into taking part in the elections next year.

The new legislation deserves to pass on Monday. It is an honest and, in the present day, unusual attempt to accommodate and honour within the same institution people who hold diametrically opposing views. The disagreement, confusion, and heart-searching of the past few years have been painful, and have occasioned incomprehension and ridicule among outside observers. But that is the cost of structuring a human institution to follow a divine calling. Trust the C of E to come up with a system of which it might be both proud and ashamed - preferably, at the end of Monday, the former.

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