IT WAS not the "hell-for-leather gallop" suggested by one
member. The General Synod, none the less, set a brisk pace for the
passage of the women-bishops legislation on Tuesday. As a result,
the way was opened for a woman to be appointed a bishop "in the
early months of next year", the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd
James Langstaff (above), said after the debate.
The Synod was swift in its own proceedings. Comfortable
majorities were secured for both the draft Declaration from the
House of Bishops and the draft procedure for the resolution of
disputes, with few queries from the floor.
The Draft Measure and Draft Amending Canon were both revised
quickly - in full Synod, without a revision-committee stage.
Amendments concerning the Equality Act fell, after reassuring
speeches that parish representatives and patrons would have enough
protection against claims under this legislation.
Bishop Langstaff, who chaired the steering committee that
produced the new package, acknowledged: "We cannot, in the end,
guard against legal challenge with 100-per-cent assurance." But, he
said, there was "no doubt at all" that a PCC resolution "held on
the grounds of the strongly held religious convictions of a
significant number of those worshipping in the parish" was
permitted by the Act.
The Synod also carried the first consideration of the rescinding
of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, thus dismantling the
present provision for those unable to accept the ministry of women
Finally, members voted to suspend a clause of the Standing
Orders to reduce from six months to three the period of time that
diocesan synods will have to vote on the draft legislation when it
is referred to them.
A few objections were raised to this. The director of Reform,
Susie Leafe, spoke of "the pressure for us to get with the
programme". Every poll and vote had suggested that about 25 per
cent of regular worshippers had theological convictions that meant
that they would seek provision under new arrangements, she said,
and it was "vital" that diocesan synods, churches, and deaneries
had time to understand the "package in which they are being asked
to participate. . . We are missing an opportunity to build trust in
every place where trust is most needed."
The Synod voted, however, in favour of the procedural motion by
an overwhelming majority of 358 to 39, far in excess of the 75 per
Christina Rees, speaking as a member of WATCH, argued that the
Synod had never rushed in its long debates on women's ordination
and their consecration to the episcopate. "We are keeping faith in
the diocese, and honouring the desire of the wider Church to have
women bishops," she said. Delay would "continue to allow the Church
and this Synod to be held up to ridicule, and our credibility will
be further undermined".
Prebendary David Houlding, a traditionalist, agreed with Mrs
Rees that there was no benefit from any delay.
The move means that the General Synod will be in a position to
give the package final approval in July, should it vote to do so.
The signs suggest that it will. Canon Simon Killwick, who chairs
the Catholic Group in the Synod, said that he hoped for an
"overwhelming" vote in favour of the Draft Declaration and
dispute-resolution procedure, and that the package would progress
"quickly and smoothly through its remaining stages". The Synod had
been "blessed by the degree of reconciliation that has taken place
recently through this process".
Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Bishop Langstaff
reminded his hearers: "It is one thing to make something possible,
and another thing for it to happen," he said. The Crown Nominations
Commission would "need to believe that that person is the right
person for that post".
THE legislation has been altered since it was last
debated in November. Bishop Langstaff explained that the Bishops'
Declaration included new amendments, including the majority
required if a PCC were to pass a resolution seeking provisions
under the Declaration.
"There will need to be either a majority of those
present at a meeting attended by at least two-thirds of the
members, or a majority of the entire membership, irrespective of
how many attend the actual meeting."
This, he said, would "avoid a minority of the PCC
frustrating the wish of the majority simply by absenting themselves
when a vote was to be taken".
The new Declaration "does not claim to resolve every
detail of every issue", Bishop Langstaff said. Instead, "it
establishes a framework, not least of relationships, within which
other issues may be resolved."
He also said that serious discussions were under way
"and will continue" regarding questions about "the supply of one or
more bishops who hold a conservative view on headship", and about
"liturgical arrangements" for the consecration of bishops for