Emergency meeting for bishops as Church reels from Synod vote

By staff writers
November 21, 2012

As bemusement surrounds the Church of England from outside, and wounds grow from within, the pressure is now on its leaders to act positively after yesterday's painfully narrow vote failing to approve women bishops.

The House of Bishops of the Church of England is meeting at 8.30am on Wednesday 21 November morning in emergency session to consider the consequences of the vote.

In theory the decision taken at the General Synod (the Church of England's tripartite legislating body) on 20 November means that the measure to remove the barriers to female episcopacy cannot return until the new Synod in 2015.

However, the 'Group of Six' (the Archbishops, the Prolocutors and the Chair and Vice Chair of the House of Laity) can still give permission for a swifter return, reporting to the Synod on why they have done so.

Many proponents of the resolution, which gained huge majorities in the Hoses of Bishops and Clergy, but failed to reach a required two-thirds majority by just six votes in the House of Laity, hope that the Group will have the courage to keep the process towards women bishops on track -- in spite of yesterday's setback.

They argue that a mandate for change is clearly present in the Church of England overall, and that the harm to its presence and mission in society will be substantial unless this is recognised and responded to swiftly.

On the other hand, further movement in the House of Laity simply may not be possible until it is re-elected.

Some who may have voted against yesterday's measure because they felt it made too many compromises to opponents of women bishops will probably feel that their preferred option of wholehearted change at a later stage is what should now be worked for. But negotiations may be possible.

Speaking after the vote at Church House Westminster, the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said: "A clear majority of the General Synod today voted in favour of the legislation to consecrate women as Bishops. But the bar of approval is set very high in this Synod. Two-thirds of each house has to approve the legislation for it to pass. This ensures the majority is overwhelming. The majority in the house of laity was not quite enough."

"This leaves us with a problem," he continued. "Forty-two out of 44 dioceses approved the legislation and more than three quarters of members of diocesan synods voted in favour. There will be many who wonder why the General Synod expressed its mind so differently."

Bishop James added: "The House of Bishops recognises that the Church of England has expressed its mind that women should be consecrated as bishops. There is now an urgent task to find a fresh way forward to which so many of those who were opposed have pledged themselves."

This may prove optimistic. Hardline opponents of women bishops believe that with the vote hung in their favour, they can now wring more 'provisions' out of the Church, in order to secure a women-free sanctuary for themselves within its walls.

By contrast, those who support women's ministry are likely to feel that no further concessions can realistically be made, because this would risk simply institutionalising deep conflict in the Church, as well as making women 'second class priests and bishops'.

This was the concern that led to postponement of the decision in July 2012. But a further accommodation to win over waverers, plus a joint appeal by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop Designate did not work.

* 'Vote against women bishops keeps church on wrong path' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17436


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