CLEARING the last legal hurdle to enable women to become bishops
has started "a completely new phase of our existence as the
Church", the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Speaking on Monday after the General Synod had formally voted to
enact the women bishops Measure into law, Archbishop Welby said
that, although the process had taken "a very, very long time", he
was pleased that bishops could now be chosen on the basis of their
abilities without regard to gender.
He also said that work had already begun to help the Church
adjust to this development: "We are working very hard on the
training and development of people, men and women, for senior
positions in the Church."
"The aim is you end up with a big pool of people where gender is
irrelevant." Those against the ordination of women would also be
involved in this process, he promised.
He also told reporters that he could not say with any certainty
when the first women might be appointed bishop. "The Archbishops
have just one vote out of 14 [on the Crown Nominations Commission],
and our ability to control or prevent appointments is very limited.
I know there are some very good people, and we hope that some will
also find their way on to the bishops' bench."
If bishops retire as expected, Archbishop Welby said, women
could make up half the College of Bishops within ten to 15
Campaigners for women bishops reacted with pleasure to the news
that the long road to allowing women into the episcopate had now
ended. The chairwoman of WATCH (Women and the Church), Hillary
Cotton, told the BBC that the move was highly significant.
"It is not just about having women wearing purple, it is about
changing the culture of the Church to be more equal."
In an official statement, Ms Cotton said: "WATCH looks forward
to bringing gender justice to fruition in the Church of
England.From now, we are just getting started."
Christina Rees, a member of the General Synod and a long-time
activist and said that there should have been more rejoicing after
the Canon was promulged by the Archbishops on Monday afternoon,
after a simple vote by show of hands.
"We've done a good thing. We've done a wonderful thing," she
told The Guardian on Monday. "The nation outside will have
seen us and we should be whooping and shouting with joy. Why do we
have to keep a dignified silence? It's taken us 40 years, and we
should be rejoicing loudly."
Opponents to the development were quietly resigned to the
change, relieved by the new accord, and the safeguards for
Some, though, continued to insist that the move was not good for
the Church. The director of the conservative Evangelical group
Reform, Susie Leafe, said that she felt sorry for the first female
bishops, as they would be given an "impossible task".
"If my theological traditions are respected, she could not have
oversight of my church," she told The Guardian.
The Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Prebendary
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, told the Telegraph that there remained
many obstacles to clear.
"For pioneers, there is no easy task. You are blazing a trail;
you are making a path clear. Women have always been diplomatic, we
have always had to tread carefully. We have always had to carry the
burden of the rest of the Church not wanting to celebrate women in
Besides finishing the legislative process for women bishops,
this week's meeting of the General Synod discussed the persecution
of religious minorities in the Middle East. Bishop Angaelos of the
Coptic Orthodox Church said that suffering Christians in Syria and
Iraq needed urgent humanitarian assistance, but were also touched
to know they were not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in
the wider Church.
Sheikh Fuad Nahdi, the executive director of the Radical Middle
Way organisation, also participated in the debate, becoming the
first Muslim to address the Synod.
Synod members also debated and carried a motion that urged the
Government to look again at the so-called "bedroom tax". Many
speakers condemned the policy for causing hardship to poor
Also on the agenda were Anglican-Methodist relations. After a
debate on the latest report from the Covenant's Joint
Implementation Commission, the Synod agreed with the report's
recommendation and voted to begin work on overcoming
ecclesiological obstacles to uniting the two Churches.
In his presidential address on Monday, Archbishop Welby
delivered a robust defence of the Anglican Communion and insisted
that another Lambeth Conference was possible, despite conspicuous
divisions within the Communion.
"I have to say that we are in a state so delicate that, without
prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some
serious fractures," he said. Primates' Meetings and future Lambeth
Conferences would be decided upon collegially, he said.
He reported that, none the less, the link with Canterbury and
its Archbishop remained key for many in the Communion.