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MPs seek a gender mix in other place

28 March 2014


Twenty years ago: the Revd Angela Berners-Wilson presiding at the eucharist in St Paul's, Clifton, Bristol, in 1994, soon after her ordination

Twenty years ago: the Revd Angela Berners-Wilson presiding at the eucharist in St Paul's, Clifton, Bristol, in 1994, soon after her ordination

MPs are already turning their attention to the possible future gender balance of the Bishops' Bench in the House of Lords.

During a debate in the House of Commons on women's contribution to the ordained ministry in the Church of England, on Thursday of last week, Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden, said: "Many ordained women reported feeling that they are still regarded as second best, which will persist unless we are successful in getting a mix of men and women bishops in the Upper House."

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, told the House that getting women bishops into the House of Lords "was not something that can simply be resolved by a Measure of the General Synod. It will require primary legislation."

The Government would "seek to facilitate as speedily as possible what the Church of England feels would be most appropriate in these circumstances", he said. He understood that the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, was "in negotiations with various groups to give some thought to how best that can be achieved".

The Commons debate was convened to mark the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women. The first of 32 women priests, the Revd Angela Berners-Wilson, was ordained in Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994. Mrs Spelman said: "The dire predictions . . . have been proved wrong," and suggested that women priests had brought a collaborative approach and creativity to the Church.

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, suggested that the Church consider holding open those sees that were currently vacant, until women could be considered. He continued: "One hears rumours that we are getting to the end of our talent pool, as regards male suffragans who can be promoted to diocesan bishop."

Sir Tony quoted various statistics to the House - 23 per cent of stipendiary clergy and 53 per cent of non-stipendiary members of the clergy were women, as were 48 per cent of ordinands - but said that challenges remained. There were "relatively few" young women going forward for ordination, for example.

Votes in. Twenty out of 44 dioceses have now voted on the women-bishops draft Measure. All have voted in favour. In total, 97 per cent of bishops have voted in favour, and 93 per cent each of the diocesan houses of clergy and laity.

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