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A woman bishop this year?

24 January 2014


Prescient?: a purple tree, decorated with pictures of Women as Bishops, topped off with a Mitre and an apron reading 'A women's Place is in the House!', was created by the Revd Sharon Constable and the Revd Sue Paterson, for the Loughborough and Melton churches, in Leicester diocese, for Christmas 2013

Prescient?: a purple tree, decorated with pictures of Women as Bishops, topped off with a Mitre and an apron reading 'A women's Place is in the Hous...

THE first woman bishop in the Church of England could be appointed by Christmas, the secretary general of the General Synod, William Fittall said on Friday of last week.

At a press briefing in preparation for the meeting of the Synod in February, Mr Fittall said that it was "entirely conceivable" that an appointment could be made: "there is no shortage of vacancies coming up." But Mr Fittall also cautioned that the Synod was "unpredictable".

In November, the General Synod voted overwhelmingly to welcome the new women-bishops proposals, by 378 to eight (News, 22 November). On 11 February, the revision stage of the draft legislation will take place - unusually, without having first been seen by a revision committee. The Synod had "one opportunity to engage with the detail of the Measure and the Canon", Mr Fittall said. "There's a strong hope that the momentum that's been achieved, the consensus that's been building, will carry us through."

A report by the House of Bishops, published last Friday, states that "there is a strong case for getting on and sealing the deal." The report, also to be debated on 11 February, includes a draft Declaration from the House of Bishops, and a draft mandatory disputes-resolution procedure.

If the Measure is approved by the Synod next month, it will be referred to the dioceses under Article 8. Standing orders state that the dioceses must have at least six months to vote on business sent down to them under this Article. The House of Bishops has recommended, however, that this deadline be reduced to just over three months, to 22 May. Next month,the Synod will need to agree, by a 75-per-cent majority, to suspend the standing order.

The House of Bishops' report notes that the dioceses have already considered legislation on women bishops, and have approved it by 42 to two; and that there is a "strong desire in the Synod and the wider Church to make rapid progress". It also states that the new legislation is "simple and is part of a package that has had overwhelming support in the General Synod and will not in practice, after February, be susceptible to further significant change. "There is something to be said for getting the legislation through the Synod and into the parliamentary process in July rather than November."

After speaking of the momentum behind the new Measure, and suggesting that "on all sides of the argument there is a weariness about this subject," Mr Fittall warned that the package's smooth passage was by no means certain. "The vote in November was, in a sense, a vote on process: it was moving things along. If you listen carefully to some of the speeches made in November, many were very enthusiastic, but there were qualifications and caveats from some people," he said. "I think it would be unwise to approach this Synod on the basis that it's all going to be entirely smooth and straightforward."

If the legislation secures final approval at the York meeting of the Synod in July, it will then go before Parliament and its Ecclesiastical Committee for approval. It must then receive Royal Assent, and the Canon must get royal license. Finally, it must be promulged by the Synod. The earliest that this could take place would be in November. It would then be possible for a woman to be appointed a bishop.

The report from the House of Bishops makes transitional provision for those parishes that, under existing legislation, have passed resolutions to restrict aspects of their ministry to male clergy, or have petitioned for extended episcopal oversight. It says these resolutions or petitions "should be treated for two years after the date on which the Amending Canon is promulged as if they were resolutions passed under paragraph 20". Paragraph 20 sets out the way in which PCCs can pass a new resolution requesting external episcopal ministry.

Forward in Faith welcomed this provision on Friday, as well as other "minor improvements" to the package. But its Chairman, the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, said that it was still "essential that an acceptable way of proceeding in relation to the consecration of Traditional Catholic bishops is agreed before the legislation is referred to the dioceses".

 A FORMER Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, has ac­­cepted an invitation to join the retired bishops providing support to the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda.

The Society was established to help those un­­able to receive the sacramental ministry of women to "flourish and grow with­in the Church of England". It is ad­­ministered by Forward in Faith, and governed by a Council of Bishops.

Bishop Langrish, who retired in June, accepted in November the invitation to join eight other re­­tired bishops who are consulted by the Council.

On Wednesday, Bishop Lan­grish spoke of a desire to help preserve "generous breadth and respectful diversity" within the Church of England. He said that he was not a member of Forward in Faith and was "very unlikely" to become one. He went on: "I have every hope that the new legislation to permit the ordination of women to the episcopate will be imple­mented in a spirit of integrity and generosity.

"At the same time, it seems to me that the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda has a very important role to play, alongside other group­­ings, and both deserves, and will be strengthened by, the sup­port of bishops from a variety of back­grounds, but who share to­­gether a concern for the preserva­tion of both orthodox Anglican under­stand­­­ings of doctrine and ethics, and are committed to that gener­ous breadth and respectful divers­ity that has hitherto enabled the Church of England to fulfil its witness and mission to the English nation so well."

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