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SYNOD: Fast track agreed for women bishops

21 February 2014


Glass ceiling: the roof of the debating chamber of Church House, Westminster

Glass ceiling: the roof of the debating chamber of Church House, Westminster

THE legislative package for the introduction of women bishops in the Church of England returned to the General Synod on Tuesday. During the course of the day's debates, the Synod agreed to shorten the period of time allowed for the reference to diocesan synods. Thus a woman could be appointed bishop in the early part of 2015.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, introduced the series of debates on women in the episcopate by alluding to a prayer of Sir Francis Drake. "'To endeavour any great matter'," he said, "we are neither at the beginning, nor yet is it thoroughly finished. Rather, we are at the stage of 'continuing in the same' - a stage often requiring a good deal of work, not least on matters of detail and sensitivity."

He set out what the Synod was being asked to do: to agree a tighter timetable for the reference to dioceses; to set about replacing the provisions of 1993 with new provisions, including rescinding the 1993 Act of Synod; to pass the revision stage of the Draft Measure; and, first of all, to debate the House of Bishops' Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, together with the draft Regulations for the Resolution of Disputes Procedure.

"When the time comes, it will be for the House [of Bishops] to make the Declaration and the Regulations, but the motion before us asks Synod to 'welcome' them," he said.

He explained that the Bishops' Declaration included some amendments that the Synod had debated last November, including the majority required if a PCC were to pass a resolution seeking provisions under the Declaration.

"It will not be sufficient just to secure a simple majority of those present," he said, "There will need to be either a majority of those present at the 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 Bishops had also introduced "some transitional provisions" between the 1993 provisions and the new provisions. Bishop Langstaff emphasised that the new Declaration "does not claim to resolve every detail of every issue".

"On the basis of the five guiding principles, it and the Disputes Resolutions Procedure set out a great deal," he said, "and, perhaps, just as importantly, it establishes a framework, not least of relationships, within which other issues may be resolved."

He concluded his speech by saying 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 the "liturgical arrangements" for the consecration of bishops in the traditional Catholic position.

Prebendary Rod Thomas

(Exeter) raised concerns about the issue of oath-taking. For some, the very taking of an oath implied an act of submission, and they would find it a "difficult hurdle to overcome". He had asked last November if a footnote could go into the House of Bishops' Declaration "to make it clear that supplied bishops had authority under their orders and the legal right to do so under delegated powers".

He was very grateful indeed to the House of Bishops for their consideration of that potential footnote, but he understood the "nervousness" about changing the draft Declaration. Could it then appear in the guidance notes that that the House of Bishops was in the process of drafting? He also raised concerns about the impact of the new arrangements on individuals who had "sensitivities about the whole issue of male headship" which were not shared by their PCC.

It would be "helpful" if the guidance notes from the House of Bishops could emphasise the importance of sensitivity to the position of individuals. He concluded: "The upshot is that we are still engaged in honing what we have so carefully put together and that carefulness won't necessarily be reflected in all voting today."

Despite outstanding issues, he was "still keen to play a positive role in what has been a positive process. My own constituency needs to play a part in actively publishing materials that show how we could indeed be helped to flourish within the new arrangements."

Gerald O'Brien

(Rochester) reminded the Synod that the Church of England was part of the wider Anglican Communion, in which there was no consensus on the ordination of women. He highlighted paragraphs 9-13 of the draft Declaration, which concerned reciprocity. He suggested that "true reciprocity would say that in the dioceses where the diocesan bishop does ordain women, they should ensure that a bishop fully committed to the ministry of traditional Anglicans and clergy is given a role across the whole diocese for providing support for traditional Anglicans and their clergy". Paragraph 12 should emphasise the need to provide both for women clergy and those who "take a traditional line". The Crown Nominations Commission should not be able to "exclude someone from one or other integrity".

Canon Simon Killwick

(Manchester) welcomed the slightly revised draft Declaration and draft Regulations and hoped for an "overwhelming" vote in favour of them, and that the package would progress "quickly and smoothly through its remaining stages". He, too, was sorry that the footnote referred to by Prebendary Thomas "did not quite make it", but understood why the steering committee had been "nervous". It would have helped to "bring mutual agreement on this package".

The Synod had been "blessed by the degree of reconciliation that has taken place recently through this process", and he expressed his gratitude to David Porter. They had secured the equivalent of the Good Friday Agreement, but this would require further work: "After so many years of conflict, we really do need to work hard on reconciliation."

Christina Baron (Bath & Wells) said that the Church had been operating the equivalent of the US Army's "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it came to bishops' views on ordaining women. "If a diocese wants strongly a bishop who ordains women, than that diocese will look at who is available, will read their writings, will ask questions, and will find out whether somebody is willing to ordain women or not," she said.

"You're not allowed to ask [the bishop], and the diocese is not allowed to put it in its statement of needs, but they will find out. We all pretend we don't, but we have been operating a dishonest policy for 20 years." She said that she strongly welcomed the new process which would be in place once the House of Bishops' draft Declaration was approved, which would make the process more transparent.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) urged the Synod to read the legislation on women in the episcopate in a positive light. "I want to get away from constrictive legislation, and towards enabling legislation," he said. "So often our legislation has been in place to prevent something." He said the Declaration was in fact a "freeing way forward".

Sue Slater (Lincoln) said that the Bishops' Declaration had to be the basis for an ongoing process of reconciliation. She said: "I'm particularly pleased we have reached a position where we can all say we accept each other's orders and we accept that, though there is theological disagreement, we are a Church that has the right to make this decision."

Her children often asked her why she continued to be a part of a Church that did not want her as a woman. "My answer continues to be: 'I know that God has created us equal in God's image, and the only way to get things to change is to stay here and continue to talk to people who disagree with me on this issue.'" She longed for a time when she could talk to her children about the gospel rather than church structure.

Sarah Finch (London) said that she was "very grateful" to hear that consideration was being given to the supply of conservative Evangelical bishops. "At present, we have not a single bishop of this type, and yet the conservative Evangelical constituency contains many growing churches."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, explained why the House of Bishops declined to include a footnote to the word "entrusted" in paragraph 29 of their Declaration, saying that its inclusion might cause "confusion".

"If we were to learn from the Houses of Parliament, when a law is being passed, rarely are footnotes put into it. But the debate is available on Hansard, so that if there is a dispute, a judge can look back to see what was intended."

He said that, in the same way, the Independent Reviewer would be able to look back to Synod debates to see what the House of Bishops intended. "A footnote would make the simplicity of the Declaration more complicated."

Lois Haslam (Chester) said that she felt "something of the excitement Moses must have felt as he approached the Promised Land. We have wandered around the women-bishops legislation for many, many years, and we are now approaching the Promised Land. It's exciting.

"We've listened, we've heard, we've acknowledged the other side needs consideration, we have our five principles, and we're now ready to move forward to the Promised Land."

The Revd Paul Cartwright (Wakefield) described himself as a "product of the Act of Synod", which had given him the confidence to pursue his vocation. He recognised why the Act had to be rescinded, but he "wanted to put on record how well it has served the Church", in particular, in putting in place "provisions for people like me, lay and ordained".

"Women bishops are long overdue," Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said. "The lamentable slowness of General Synod has done, and continues to do, great damage to the mission and reputation of the Church."

He congratulated Archbishop Welby for "so remarkably spurring on the previously sedate synodical procedure into a hell-for-leather gallop in this final furlong".

He said that progress was particularly urgent, because the Crown Nominations Commission had been "so busy recently that there is a fear that the shallow lake of male diocesan bishops may have been over-fished".

Mary Durlacher

(Chelmsford)expressed concern at the "speed at which we are going". She referred to concerns raised by others in the debate so far, and also spoke of the "dishearteningly vague" language about multi-parish benefices.

Canon Pete Spiers

(Liverpool) was "not entirely clear" about paragraph 19 of the Declaration, and referred to a "slight confusion between the PCC and parish". Could the House of Bishops' guidance include information on what might happen in the build-up to a PCC meeting to discuss a resolution?

The Synod voted to welcome the draft House of Bishops' Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests and the draft Resolution of Disputes Procedure Regulations as set out in GS 1932.


THE Synod then moved on to the revision stage of the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and Draft Amending Canon No. 33.

Dr Paula Gooder (Birmingham) moved that Clause 1 stand part of the Measure.

Dr Lindsay Newcombe (London), vice-chair of Forward in Faith, said that she had been encouraged by how conversations between the various sides had been "refreshing and positive" since last year. "I believe that there is a will to stop battling each other and talking past each other," she said. "I feel we have come to an agreement that the mission of the Church is more important than our feelings of difference from our brothers and sisters."

Nevertheless, she also said that she hoped that the Synod would understand that she would be unable to vote for the Measure as a matter of conscience.

Canon Robert Cotton (Guildford) said that he wanted to honour the praying and thinking that had led the Church to this interim stage in the journey towards women bishops. "As we consider this momentous Clause 1, we are not in a state where some are happy and some not," he said. "All of us are mixed, I believe."

Canon Cotton said that he believed that the legislation held both faithfulness to church tradition and a "freshness" that recognised things had changed. "And if that is a puzzling mixture, we can do so confident, because God and God's word is both faithful and fresh."

The motion was carried.

Bishop Langstaff proposed that Clause 2 stand part of the Measure. Canon Simon Taylor (Derby) then spoke to his proposed amendment to Clause 2, which would seek to reintroduce protections against discrimination, based on the Equality Act, in the choosing of bishops. "The Equality Act offers protection for a wide range of people on the basis of not just gender but disability and age," he said. "Clause 2 makes it clear we do need to be able to discriminate to make appropriate provision. But I remain troubled that the exclusion of bishops from Equalities Act about disability and age may have unintended consequences."

He then said that he would withdraw his amendment, as he had been told it would threaten the passage of the overall draft Measure, which he supported.

The amendment was withdrawn by unanimous consent.

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) said that the term "public office" here had a very specific legal meaning, and the draft Measure was not in any way moving away from the belief that bishops did hold a public office and were subject to the rules of the Act.

Bishop Langstaff echoed Dr Giddings and said: "I would like to remind Synod that the legal office note to Clause 2 makes the point that it does not imply any retreat from the public square nor any change in our understanding of the public role of bishops - in fact it puts bishops into exactly the same position as members of the House of Lords, government ministers, and even the Prime Minister."

Clause 2 was clearly carried.

Clive Scowen (London) introduced his amendment to insert a new Clause 3. He sought to avoid any doubt about whether someone acting in accordance with a PCC resolution not to accept a women priest could be challenged in the courts. He said: "We were told that the risk was very small, but it does exist none the less. Its very existence could have a chilling effect on the willingness of patrons and lay representatives to act in accordance with a resolution for fear of having to defend a challenge."

Mr Scowen said that his amendment would save bishops time and money in defending a legal challenge by stating that anyone acting in accordance with such a resolution would be doing so as an expression of a "strongly held religious conviction" that had an exemption in the Equality Act.

Bishop Langstaff urged the Synod to reject the amendment, because, if it were carried, the Measure would then not secure parliamentary approval. "We cannot in the end guard against legal challenge with 100-per-cent assurance."

The House of Bishops' Declaration did make it clear, however, that a PCC resolution should be honoured, and that the diocesan bishop should act as the guarantor of this process. There was "no doubt at all" that such a resolution "held on the grounds of strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of those worshipping in the parish" was permitted by the Equality Act as an exemption.

The Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark)echoed Bishop Langstaff's request to the Synod to resist the amendment, whose consequences would be "very serious". It "suggests there is doubt in the Measure or Equality Act, and there isn't". As long as PCCs behaved "appropriately and lawfully", then "all will be well."

Mr Scowen's amendment was lost.

The Synod then approved Clauses 3 to 4, the Schedule, and the Long Title without debate. This completed the revision stage of the Draft Measure, which was committed to the steering committee in respect of final drafting.

Bishop Langstaff then moved that Clauses 1 to 6 stand part of Draft Amending Canon 33. The Synod agreed: ayes 304, noes 33, with 45 recorded abstentions.


MOVING the first consideration of theDraft Act of Synod rescinding the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, Bishop Langstaff acknowledged that the Act "evokes a variety of reactions, some rather strong".

The Act would "now be superseded by the combined efforts of the new Measure, Amending Canon, House of Bishops' Declaration, and Regulations for the Disputes Resolution Procedure".

An Act of Synod was not legislation, he said, but "a means of giving formal publication to any instrument or resolution of the Synod as 'the embodiment of the will or opinion of the Church of England as expressed by the whole body of Synod'".

It was "unsatisfactory" that "Act of Synod" sounded so much like "Act of Parliament", as "the synodical equivalent of an Act of Parliament is, of course, a Measure."

The rescinding of the Act of Synod would not abolish the episcopal sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet, or Richborough, as they exist as a result of the Suffragan Bishops Act 1888 rather than the Act of Synod. "The current holders of those posts, if they are still in office at that point, will remain in office and, if they leave at some later date, the relevant Archbishop will be able to appoint a successor.

He said that, while the title "Provincial Episcopal Visitor" and the description of the ministry was currently set out in the Act of Synod, "the House of Bishops sees no reason why the present titles, roles, and financial arrangements need to be changed simply because the Act of Synod disappears."

The Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Ven. Karen Gorham (Oxford), said that the 1993 Act had caused "distress, confusion, and incredulity". It had become a "fence to keep us apart". The winners were "only fear and doubt". The Church now needed to be mature and "live together out there in the world".

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) urged the Synod to carry the motion, but acknowledged that some had found the 1993 Act "life-enhancing". In a "different and changed environment", the current package of legislation "offers us the opportunity to walk together in trust and fellowship".

Adrian Vincent (Guildford) agreed that it was necessary for the Act of Synod to go, but he returned to concerns voiced earlier about the provision of bishops for traditionalists. The 1993 Act said that "no person shall discriminate against candidates for appointing to senior office on grounds of views on the ordination of women to the priesthood." But this would be replaced by paragraph 12 of the House of Bishops declaration, which allowed dioceses to produce a statement of need specifying that they wanted a bishop who did ordain women. More work was needed on reciprocity.

Dr Sentamu described the history of the 1993 Act, devised by his predecessor Lord Habgood, who had solved the conundrum. It had tried to give expression to the view that both parties in the matter of women priests were loyal Anglicans. He argued that he was sorry to hear from some speakers that it had made some people feel like second-class citizens, "In some parts it kept the peace and kept people in the Church of England."

The motion was carried.


AFTER adjourning for lunch, the Synod went on to debate a Business Committee motion to suspend Standing Order 90(b)(iii) relating to the Article 8 reference to the dioceses.


Chairing the debate, Geoffrey Tattersall QC (Manchester) explained that the Business Committee was proposing to shorten the time available to diocesan synods to consider the draft legislation; and that any such proposal to suspend the Standing Orders of the Synod would require a 75-per-cent majority. The vote on the proposal would, therefore, be a division of the whole Synod.

Canon Sue Booys (Oxford), who chairs the Business Committee, explained that Article 8 of the Synod's constitution said that a Measure or Canon providing for a permanent change in the services of baptism or holy communion or in the Ordinal should not be finally approved by the Synod unless the change had been approved by the majority of diocesan synods.

The standing orders allowed for a six-month period for Article 8 references to be debated; but the Business Committee wanted to speed up the process so that "the remaining stages of the legislation" could be taken in July. Diocesan secretaries had already been put on notice that the deadline for answers could be midnight on Thursday 22 May, and this was what the Business Committee was now proposing.

There were reasons to do so, she said, including the fact that the dioceses had already approved legislation on women bishops by 42 to two; and that there was a strong desire in the Synod and the wider Church to make rapid progress. In addition, the new legislation was part of a package that had had overwhelming support in the General Synod, and "will not in practice be susceptible to further significant change".

There was something to be said for "getting the legislation through the Synod and into the parliamentary process in July rather than November", as they are about to enter the final year of the Parliament. "We should never lightly depart from normal process, but the Standing Orders themselves set down a process, which we are following, for dealing with unusual circumstances in unusual days," she said.

"This is a highly unusual set of circumstances. Indeed, I am not aware of any previous occasion since the creation of the Synod in 1970 when legislation on the same subject has had to go to the dioceses twice."

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) urged the Synod to resist: "I think the decision to amend the Standing Order is unprecedented, irresponsible, and unnecessary, as well as being unhelpful. . .

"The dioceses have already debated women-bishops legislation, but they have not discussed or understood or owned this package. The dioceses need more than this immediate and shortening window so that they can pass it to deaneries and parishes who only heard of this six weeks ago, and have had no time to adapt for it." Canon Banting condemned what he called a "hell-for-leather dash towards the tape".

Christina Rees (St Albans) said that the Synod had never rushed in its long debates on women's ordination and consecration to the episcopate. "We are keeping faith in the dioceses and honouring the desire of the wider Church to have women bishops," she said.

It was also important to take into account Parliament's desire to pass women-bishops legislation quickly, she said. "Waiting for as long as the six months when it is possible to do otherwise will not help those who remain opposed in principle to having women bishops," she said. "What it will do is continue to allow the Church and this Synod to be held up to ridicule."

The Revd Charles Read (Norwich) said that, as the Church had been debating the ordination of women since 1920, the pace had, if anything, been too slow, not too fast. "Ninety-four years does seem rather a long time. People in my church wonder why the Synod drags its feet. . . I'm sorry if it feels far too quick in some parts of the country, but in the diocese of Norwich we are used to a rather brisker pace of life."

Canon Deborah Flach (Europe) said that the diocese in Europe would be happy to waive the normal six-month period.

Prebendary David Houlding (London) said that he had been speaking on this topic for many years, and, even though he disagreed with Christina Rees, he believed the time had come to move forward on it. "Christina and others are right: there is no point in delaying."

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans),suggested that Canon Banting had made the mistake of suggesting that "we can solve pastoral problems through the Article 8 reference." It was "unlikely" that the dioceses would have changed their minds from the last time they considered women bishops legislation. Bishops needed to start having "pastoral conversations about how we will enact this stuff" with those in their dioceses who would require provision.

Susie Leafe (Truro)spoke of "the pressure for us to get with the programme". But the morning's debate had shown that "issues are still there and will still be there." 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. It was "vital" that diocesan synods, churches, and deaneries had time to understand the "package in which they are being asked to participate".

This was a "complex" package. She warned: "We are missing an opportunity to build trust in every place where trust is most needed."

Kay Dyer (Coventry)noted that in the diocese of Coventry, and perhaps others, deanery elections were due in June. Suspending the clause of the Standing Orders to enable the vote to be speeded up would allow "people following this carefully to take it through to the end".

Sally Muggeridge

(Canterbury)cried: "How long, O Lord, how long must we do this?" The "brisk pace has turned into very slow walk", she warned. "Wasting our time is not the way forward."

April Alexander (Southwark)said that the Church would not see the gifts of some women as bishops "because we have waited too long. . . We do need to reflect a little on the damage we have been doing to ourselves and the people we serve over the last 25 years."

The Synod carried the motion by 358 to 39, with nine recorded abstentions. It read:

That paragraph (b)(iii) of Standing Order 90 be suspended until the end of the group of sessions to be held in November 2014.

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