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‘New phase’ as Synod vote goes through

21 November 2014


Clear result: top: the last vote on the women-bishops legislation on Monday showed a large majority in favour.

Clear result: top: the last vote on the women-bishops legislation on Monday showed a large majority in favour.

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 years.

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 traditionalists.

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 ministry."

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 families.

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.


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