Optimism over women bishops abounds after Synod vote


An air of positivity holds sway over the General Synod as the move towards women bishops continues to gather pace.

Speaking after Synod voted to fast-track the women bishops legislation, the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, was optimistic that the legal process would be wrapped up soon.

He said: "It's gone through brilliantly, with a great atmosphere. There is a feeling now that we are now dealing with details rather than overall principle."

In a Church of England interview, Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend James Langstaff described the vote as "a very significant step forward" and the atmosphere as "low key" and "gentle", highlighting the overall agreement among Synod members but also suggesting a mindfulness of the compromise that was needed to reach it.

"I was pleased ... and quite surprised at how few people wanted to speak," Bishop Langstaff said.

Tuesday's vote is in stark contrast to what happened in November 2012, when just six votes in the House of Laity stopped Synod from passing women bishops legislation.

Bishop Langstaff said: "It was quite a shock really, and so now we have seen a desire of far more people to engage constructively on this issue."

Lois Haslam, a lay member from the Chester Diocese, said in the debate: "I feel something like what Moses must have felt as he approached the Promised Land."

Hilary Cotton, chair of the group Women and the Church campaign group (WATCH) said: "There was a real sense of wanting to move forward today."

The vast majority of the negative comments made during Tuesday's debate were not about opposition to women bishops but rather that the legislation to allow them was not moving fast enough.

Tim Allen, of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, said: "Women bishops are long overdue, the lamentable, stumbling slowness of General Synod in coming to a final decision on whether there will be women bishops in the Church of England has done and continues to do great damage to the mission and reputation of the Church.

"There is a pressing need for speed and I want to congratulate the Archbishop of Canterbury for so remarkably spurring on the previously sedate synodical procedures into a hell-for-leather gallop in this final furlong."

Tuesday's debate saw Synod vote to speed up the legislative process by reducing the period of consultation in the dioceses from six months to three. 

Christina Rees, a prominent campaigner for women bishops, welcomed the move saying that the full six months "will not help those who remain opposed in principle to having women bishops".

"What it will do is continue to allow the Church and this Synod to be held up to ridicule. Our credibility will be further under mined," she said. 

Speaking in the Synod, Bishop Langstaff avoided the temptation to celebrate just yet, noting that there was still work to do to get the legislation passed at final approval stage. 

"We are neither at the beginning, nor yet thoroughly finished," he said. 

"I am not in the business of counting chickens before I have got them as it were because we do not know how people will vote at the final approval vote necessarily."

There is still the matter, he pointed out, of the requirement of a two thirds majority in the House of Laity, the House of Clergy, and the House of Bishops.

"One house failing to get the two thirds majority can lead to the whole thing failing," the bishop pointed out.

However, even opponents of women bishops had positive things to say. Lindsay Newcombe, vice chairman of Forward in Faith, an organisation opposed to women's ordination, described the conversations on the matter over the past year as "mostly encouraging".

"I believe that there is a will to stop ... talking past each other. How brilliant that we have shown that we have the will to work together through our differences," she said. 

In a statement released later, Forward in Faith added: "The Act of Synod has served the Church of England well. We are confident that the Declaration will enable us to flourish within its life and structures for generations to come."

Simon Killwick, chairman of the Catholic group in Synod, who has been calling for greater protections for opponents, said the Church has "been greatly blessed by the degree of reconciliation that has taken place".

He said he hoped the new reforms would "proceed smoothly and quickly through its final stages".

The Bishop of Warrington, the Right Reverend Richard Blackburn said he was "delighted" by the progress being made on women bishops.

"As a strong supporter of women bishops I am heartened that this measure is on course," he said.

"Whilst we continue to keep in mind the needs of those who cannot accept women's ministry this is another positive step.

"It feels as if the much awaited day is dawning when we shall see an excellent female colleague appointed as a bishop."

If the legislation is approved by a majority of dioceses before the May 22 deadline, it will return to General Synod for final approval when it meets in July, meaning the first woman bishop could be nominated before the end of the year.