BY CANON DR. CHRIS SUGDEN, ANGLICAN MAINSTREAM, UK
The General Synod of the Church of England completed its revision stage of the legislation for Women Bishops in York on Monday, July 12th. The synod agreed to the following draft legislation:
There will be women bishops.
1. Current arrangements set up in 1993 for providing bishops for those who cannot accept the ministry of ordained women will be cancelled.
2. The House of Bishops will begin work on a Code of Practice on how to provide bishops for those who cannot accept women bishops.
3. The draft legislation will be sent to the 43 dioceses for their response.
4. Based on those responses, the legislation will be presented to the Synod in two years time for final approval when it will have to secure two-thirds majority in all three houses of bishops, clergy and laity.
Are there any problems? Yes.
The synod actually voted by a numerical majority, and by a majority in the House of Bishops and the House of Laity for a different arrangement-namely that proposed by the Archbishops that there would be statutory provision for "co-ordinate" bishops to look after those who cannot accept women bishops. This provision would have provided greater assurance by legal means to Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals that they would have a secure place in the Church of England.
1. The dioceses will be asked to vote on an arrangement which did not secure a numerical majority at synod, and which, for many bishops, was not their first preference.
2. When the final legislation comes to the newly-elected synod in two years time, if the composition of the synod is the same as it is today, then it would not secure the required two-thirds majority in all three houses. If it fails then the whole process would have to start again from the beginning.
At the end of the debate, the leading Anglo-Catholic spokesman asked synod to refer the matter for a further revision procedure now. A little time spent getting it right now would greatly reduce the risk of the whole legislation failing in two years time. Synod rejected this request by around 290 votes to just over 100 votes.
A substantial number of members of synod are not convinced that the current legislation will do enough for those who cannot accept women bishops to remain securely as part of the Church of England. "Planning blight" will begin, as those discerning where God might be calling them to minister will be very uncertain whether there is a future for them in the Church of England ordained ministry.
The so-far unsolved problem is this: the Church of England has a tradition of "mono-episcopacy"-one bishop in one geographical area. Arrangements under the current system for a different bishop for those who cannot accept women bishops would mean that women bishops would be seen as "second-class" to male bishops in that they could lose areas of jurisdiction over those who did not wish to have them as a bishop, which would not be the same for a male bishop.
Could the Church of England question that tradition and think in terms of a collaborative episcopacy-bishops in a small team with bishops having different responsibilities relating to different church communities, including a male bishop for those who cannot accept women bishops? The new wine of collaborative ministry between men and women in leadership requires a new wineskin of how the Church of England thinks of its bishops.
The issue to be decided was not whether there will be women bishops, but how much room will there be for those who cannot in conscience accept them. The present answer is "some" room at the discretion of the bishop, but not statutorily guaranteed room as of right. This is not enough for Anglo-Catholics who do not believe it is possible for women to be bishops. It is difficult for conservative evangelicals who do not believe the "team captain" should be a woman. What next? Synod elections in the autumn will be focused on this issue, and discussions in the dioceses will take place over the next 18 months. Please pray. †