Towards Women in the Episcopate – I

Following its meeting on 10th December, the House of Bishops issued a statement which summarizes its plan for progressing the ordination of women to the episcopate,

  • before Christmas, to establishment a working group for the preparation of new legislative proposals; the memberships will be determined by the Archbishops and will be drawn from all three houses of Synod;
  • an event early in 2013 at which the bishops will share with a larger number of lay and ordained women – in the context of prayer and reflection – questions about the culture of the House’s processes and discussions, and how women might more regularly contribute;
  • during the week of 4th February, discussions with a wide range of people of a variety of views, facilitated by the working group; [General Synod would normally have met during this week, but in view of the proximate translation of Justin Welby to Canterbury, it had been decided prior to the Synod in November 2012 that this would not take place];
  • an additional meeting of the House of Bishops in February, immediately after these discussions; agreement at its May meeting the elements of a new legislative package to come to General Synod in July.

The Bishops note that for any proposal to command assent, it would need

  • greater simplicity than the previous proposals;
  • clear embodiment of the principle articulated by the 1998 Lambeth Conference – “that those who dissent from as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans”;
  • broadly-based agreement about the shape of the legislation in advance of the beginning of the actual legislative process.


The production of the timetable of events has effectively, though possibly not deliberately, wrong-footed the grass-roots measures aimed at expediting a reconsideration of the ordination of women to the episcopate, reported here, i.e. :

  • dissolution of the present General Synod, as supported Bristol Diocesan Synod’s vote of no confidence “in the ability of the General Synod of the Church of England to effect the clear will of the majority of Church members in relation to women bishops”.
  • the meeting of the House of Laity on 18th January 2012 to debate a motion of no confidence in its chair, Dr Philip Giddings.

Neither of these would have increased the prospect of an earlier consideration of the proposed legislation.  Although the membership of a newly-elected General Synod would potentially be different,  it would be elected under the same rules and from the same group of people.  Likewise, in view of present circumstances, it is unlikely that the direction given by the chair of the House of Laity will be a major factor in any vote.

However, although the proposals of the House of Bishops provide a “quick and dirty” solution that will probably satisfy all but the most rabid disestablishmentarianism parliamentarians, they do not address a number of fundamental issues:

  • the separation of powers within the governance of the Church of England;
  • the electoral college from which members of the House of Laity are drawn; and
  • the accountability of members of the General Synod to represent the agreed position(s) of their diocesan synods.

Backbench Debate, 12th December

An earlier post reported on a general backbench debate secured by Ben Bradshaw “on the Church of England Synod vote on women bishops”.  The two and three quarter hour debate concluded with the resolution

“That this House has considered the matter of the Church of England Synod vote on women bishops”

Although the debate per se did not progress the issue further, it provided parliamentarians with an opportunity to put forward their views, and these will be reported in a later post.