After a passionate debate the General Synod (church parliament) of the Church of England voted last night for women to be able to lead the church as bishops.
In 2012, similar legislation failed when the house of Laity (the non-clergy part of the Synod) failed to pass it with a two-thirds majority—the hold-outs were largely conservative evangelicals.
Last year, mediation experts were called in to negotiate, and “five guiding principles” were agreed in an attempt to assure opponents they would still have a place in Church.
A group set up to draft the proposals was enlarged to include key players, opponents and supporters of women bishops.
The new arrangements are a delicate balance—avoiding creating women as “second class bishops” but seeking that conservative parishes should be able to flourish.
The fifth principle states:
Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.
The new arrangement means that local churches will be able to vote to ask for a male bishop.
A mandatory disputes resolution procedure has been set up to serve when Bishops and churches get into difficulty.
But as many of the speakers in last night’s debate suggested, the new system will only work with a high level of trust.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said:
“Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted with today’s result. Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases disagreeing.
“The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds. Very few institutions achieve this, but if we manage this we will be living our more fully the call of Jesus Christ to love one another.
“As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of those within the Church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow. My aim, and I believe the aim of the whole church, should be to be able to offer a place of welcome and growth for all. Today is a time of blessing and gift from God and thus of generosity. It is not winner take all, but in love a time for the family to move on together.”