The Church of England Says Yes to Women Bishops

On July 14, the Church of England’s General Synod voted in favor of consecrating women bishops. The legislation passed by overwhelming majorities in all three of the Synod’s Houses, Laity, Clergy and Bishops, reversing last year’s vote against women in the episcopate.

The legislation goes hand in hand with a Declaration from the House of Bishops, which contains provision for those opposed to women bishops. The Declaration states:

1. Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops, the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;

2. Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;

3. Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;

4. Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and

5. 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.

As guided by the fourth and fifth principles, parishes will be able to pass a Resolution requesting alternative episcopal oversight and have the right of appeal to an independent reviewer, or ombudsman, in the case of dispute.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, enthusiastically endorsed the legislation, saying that he was “delighted” at the outcome of the vote.

The U.K.’s secular politicians echoed Welby’s enthusiasm, with Prime Minister David Cameron stating, “I warmly welcome today’s vote formally approving women bishops - a great day for the Church and for equality.” 

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, also spoke out strongly in favor of the Synod’s decision: 

“This is a watershed moment for the Church of England and a huge step forward in making our society fairer. I would like to congratulate the strong leadership that Archbishop Welby has shown on this issue.
“Allowing women to become bishops is another long overdue step towards gender equality in senior positions. I welcome the Church of England’s decision which means that women can now play a full and equal role in the important work of the Church.”

Traditional Anglo-Catholics, represented by Forward in Faith U.K. and the Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda, also welcomed the legislation in the following statement:

“Many in the Church of England are celebrating today, following final approval of the legislation to permit women to be ordained as bishops.
"While recognizing this, we deeply regret the further obstacle that this decision places in the path to the full, visible unity of the whole Church.
"We do, however, welcome the provision that has been made in the House of Bishops’ Declaration. It recognizes that our theological convictions about ministry and ordination remain within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition. It assures us that bishops will continue to be consecrated within the Church of England who can provide episcopal ministry that accords with those theological convictions. It makes provision for parishes to gain access to that episcopal ministry by passing resolutions.
This gives us confidence in our future as catholics who are called to live out our Christian vocation in the Church of England. For this we give thanks to God.”

However, Forward in Faith North America expressed “deep sorrow” at the vote and questioned its legitimacy:

“First, it is with deep sorrow that FiFNA acknowledges the vote by the General Synod of the Church of England to proceed with the “consecration” of women to the episcopate. This action heightens the level of difficulty for Anglicans during this period of reception, by placing more barriers before those who are seeking to live under and promote the historic priesthood and episcopate. Sadly, the autonomy of the local church, albeit provinces, has usurped the authority and unity of Ecumenical consensus and the Church catholic, exposing yet again the ecclesial deficit of our Communion that can only be addressed through the historic tools of Conciliar discernment.”

Whether long-lasting provision will be made within the Church of England for those unable to accept the validity of women bishops remains to be seen. 

If the United States and Canada serve as a precedent, traditionalists within the CofE have little ground for optimism.

Forward in Christ

Proclaiming the Faith and Order of the Church, given to us by Christ.