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Twenty years on

09 May 2014

WHAT a difference 18 months can make! The Church Times marked the 20th anniversary of the General Synod vote in favour of women priests in its issue of 23 November 2012. We delayed the features for a week to tie it in neatly with our coverage of a vote in favour of women bishops during that week's General Synod sessions. As readers will recall, the news that week was very different, as Bill Caldwell's cartoon at the time made clear. The Ven. Christine Hardman, interviewed for our feature before the vote had taken place, observed: "Sometimes we might think that things haven't moved on at all, but we do now have a real confidence about minstry, which in those days wasn't so secure." For several weeks after the no vote, the first part of her remark seemed true, while the second required more optimism than many could summon up.

Contrast the mood in late November 2012 with last weekend. In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the congregation permission to celebrate "with fullness of heart and no holding back, not in triumphalism, but in awe at the God who so loves us that he gave us his whole self - so that all of us, men and women equally, may give our whole selves in following Christ". This is surely the point to hold on to, especially at a time when preferment in the Church is once again being spoken of. We expect our clergy to be ambitious, but Christian ambition is of a different order from that in the secular world, as Christ demonstrated by washing his disciples' feet. As the past 20 years have shown, gender has no bearing on the ability to minister to the people of God in this way.

During the past 18 months, former opponents have found agreement over the provision for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops. The July Synod meeting will prove (we trust) to be the final test. It is everyone's desire to have this matter settled satisfactorily, so that the Church can concentrate its energies on its other business. It will need to keep half an eye on this subject, however. The selection of a few senior women will not mean that the C of E has the gender issue fixed. A fair assessment of women's experience when making appointments, accommodation for working mothers, and the matter of stipends are all subjects that need more work, together with the guarding of consciences. But, in the mean time, the existence of so many new footwashers is something to celebrate.

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