Women in the Church of England are celebrating the news that an important hurdle in the path to consecrating women bishops has been overcome, paving the pathway for a historic change.
The legislation - if given approval by a majority of diocesan synods, as is highly likely - would then return to the General Synod in 2012 for further drafting and final approval.
“This moment has been long-awaited, and we are absolutely delighted”, one long-standing women’s ordination campaigner told Ekklesia afterwards.
The Church of England Synod, its governing body, overwhelmingly endorsed the draft legislation prepared by the relevant Revision Committee, with only a couple of minor amendments.
After rejecting ways of accommodating those opposed which would have effectively made women second class bishops to men, the Synod yesterday accepted the proposals suggested by the Committee in clause two of the draft legislation.
Under the agreed arrangements, it will be up the diocesan bishop – male or female – to decide how to accommodate priests opposed to the Episcopal ministry of women, after referring to a statutory code of practice.
The Church has rejected the creation of separate structures and bishoprics for those who refuse to recognise women.
The debate in Synod was heartfelt, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, among others, said that further delay was “not an option”.
In the end, the motion approving the measure, including diocesan protection for objectors, was passed with an overwhelming majority of 373 in favour, 14 against and 17 abstentions - though some opponents of women bishops indicated that they voted for it tactically and will vote against when the issue comes back to Synod.
Several powerful speeches made it clear the sacrifice that had been made by the majority who welcomed women’s ordained ministry in voting for this compromise.
“This is good news for the whole Church and we are delighted,” said the Rev Rachel Weir, chair of WATCH (Women and the Church) which has campaigned long and hard for the full recognition of women’s ministry and an end to religiously sanctioned prejudice.
She continued: “General Synod’s decision gives the Church a powerful mandate to move forward enthusiastically; welcoming the ministry of women at all levels within the Church whilst making space for those who are opposed to stay within our body”.
Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod at the conclusion of the debate that he hoped the dioceses would see their work on the legislation as more than a "mechanical task" in the view of the "depth and honesty" of feeling about the subject on the General Synod.
"We have decided to invite the dioceses to join us in prayer and reflection," he declared.