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Praise for patience as Lords agree to women bishops

17 October 2014


THE House of Lords passed the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure on Tuesday night.

The vote followed a debate in which Baroness Perry praised the "immense patience" of Church of England women clergy, the Archbishop of Canterbury emphasised the need to remain a "broad Church", and Lord Cormack welcomed the provision for traditionalists.

Lady Perry said that women clergy had been snubbed by male colleagues and criticised "because their high-heels clonked", and it had been "infinitely humiliating" to see the Church "reject the potential of those wonderful women within it". One "very senior" woman had found that male colleagues failed to invite her to important meetings. Yet such women remained "patient and conciliatory".

Introducing the "very long-overdue" Measure, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the "outstanding leadership" of women in the Church and the "frustration" of the process for opening up the episcopate to them. He said that there was "solid cross-party support" for a Bill to fast-track the admission of women bishops into the House of Lords.

Lord Cormack welcomed the safeguards for traditionalists in the Measure, which would ensure that they were not "driven out".

Baroness Berridge, a "state-comp girl", suggested that women bishops might "give a head start to broadening the educational background among leaders" (News, 5 September), and questioned whether the Church was "disproportionately promoting married people". In response, Archbishop Welby said that "the pool is being improved": the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, was in charge of this process. The marital status of candidates was "not relevant".

The Archbishop also sought to reassure peers concerned that senior women might be considered too old to serve as bishops. The Bishop of Hereford had been appointed recently, aged 64, and the Archbishop felt "passionate" about not losing the experience of such priests.

Baroness Sherlock suggested that there was "something quite powerful and inclusive about taking that pain [of being excluded for many years] into the very heart of the episcopate". The Archbishop also reassured the House that the clause in the Measure stating that a bishop was not a public office was "not a cloak for discrimination on sexuality, marital status, marital history, or for that matter, age".

Among several concerns raised by Baroness Howe, vice-president of WATCH, was how congregations who supported the ministry of women could request a "non-discriminating bishop". The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, reminded the House that there would be no diocese without a bishop who would ordain women.

Lady Howe also sought reassurance that the ministry of a "headship bishop" promised to conservative Evangelicals (News, 27 June) would be limited to those parishes that requested it. Bishop Langstaff said that "it might be good if that person was somehow tied into what we might call the mainstream ministry of bishops in some way and therefore prevented from becoming overly sectarian."

Concluding the debate, the Archbishop hoped for "a deeper and wider pool of bishops - and, as soon as possible, on these benches".

The Measure will now pass to the House of Commons for debate. The Amending Canon is likely to be promulged in Synod in November.

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