THE CHURCH of England yesterday became a “national embarrassment” when its General Synod narrowly failed to pass draft legislation which would have allowed women to become bishops.
According to this report, the “national embarrassment” remark came from the Bishop of Chelmsford, speaking to religious affairs journalist Andrew Brown. He failed to respond to Brown’s suggestion that it had committed
A long and boring suicide.
Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke of his “deep personal sadness” after the vote and of his concern for its consequences.
He and his successor, Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, had their eloquent pleas for unity and progress ignored by a hardline minority. The Archbishop elect tweeted afterwards:
Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters.
He called for prayer and:
Collaboration with our healing God.
The Rev Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’ Piccadilly and formerly Canon Precentor at St Paul’s Cathedral, wrote in the Guardian yesterday that the vote was a “disaster” for the church, though one from which she believed it could recover.
It is a matter of shame that millions of women have lived and died as practising Christians while being told from the pulpit that they, as the inheritors of Eve, were responsible for all the sin in the world. It is a matter of shame that in this country women were bridled at the time of the Reformation for daring to speak publicly about their faith. It is unutterably sad that women have lived and died nursing an unfulfilled vocation to serve as priests.
The Rev Canon Rosie Harper, vicar of Great Missenden and chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, said during the nine-hour debate that rejecting women bishops would be “the act of a dying Church” and that:
A Church with lower moral standards than the rest of society risks its right to comment on other issues.
Christina Rees added:
The House of Laity has betrayed the Church of England and the whole nation.
Rees is a prominent a lay member of General Synod, a broadcaster and a writer.
Women and the Church (WATCH) described the outcome of the debate and vote as a
Devastating blow for the Church of England.
The Rev Rachel Weir, chair of WATCH, commented:
This is a tragic day for the Church after so many years of debate and after all our attempts at compromise. Despite this disappointing setback, WATCH will continue to campaign for the full acceptance of women’s gifts of leadership in the Church of England’s life.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, and a former C of E diocesan adviser, said:
This failure to embrace a complete episcopal ministry will undoubtedly be seen inside and outside the Church of England as a further ecclesiastical betrayal of women. It is a very sad outcome to twenty years worth of discussion, though it is most unlikely to be the end of the matter.
The Church will certainly remove the barriers to consecrating women bishops in the future, but it is causing itself great pain, and damage to all involved (especially women), by allowing a minority to continue to thwart the process in the meantime.
During and after the General Synod debate there was puzzlement expressed by observers and commentators at contradictory arguments used by opponents of women bishops on both the evangelical and catholic wings of the Church.
The Church of England’s post-vote press release noted that the consequence of the “no” vote terminating any further consideration of the draft legislation means that it will not be possible to introduce draft legislation in the same terms until a new General Synod comes into being in 2015.
The Church of England also finds itself more isolated internationally as a result of the Synod vote. Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. South Africa is about to follow suit.
Both the Church of Ireland and the Episcopal Church in Scotland have approved measures permitting women to be bishops, but have yet to appoint them.
Some 17 out of 38 provinces in the 78 million-strong Anglican Communion have now removed obstacles to female episcopacy.
Beyond the walls of the institution the vote produced waves of astonishment and even ridicule, with thousands of condemnatory messages appearing on BBC and newspaper websites.
The head of a leading Anglican mission agency, Mark Russell, tweeted in a personal capacity:
I’m committed to sharing Good News to those outside the church, thanks #synod for making my job more difficult.