General Synod

Update on women bishops

by Jean Mayland

from Signs of the Times, No. 31 - Oct 2008

In the last edition of 'Signs' I wrote about the coming debate in General Synod entitled 'Will they get it?' It is good to report that a sufficient number of General Synod 'did get it' for a favourable outcome to be reached - but only just!

The media have widely reported that the General Synod rejected a compromise and went with the liberals and the women. It did not. It accepted a compromise. WATCH did not want a Code of Practice. As stated last time we favoured separate pastoral arrangements to meet the needs of those opposed agreed in each Diocese where there is a woman bishop - a system which has worked extremely well in the USA. An amendment to this effect was moved by the Revd Miranda Threlfall-Holmes but was defeated in all three houses.

Amendments from those opposed aimed at replacing a code of Practice with legal and statutory requirements moved by those opposed to women bishops were also defeated. The one that came nearest to being passed was one which asked that there should be 'statutory transfer of specified responsibilities' - in other words continuing special or 'flying bishops' to whom by law women bishops would be obliged to transfer certain powers and responsibilities. In the Bishops the voting was 21 for and 21 against with one abstention (the Bishop of Manchester who had chaired the Legislative Design Group) It was passed in the laity 98 to 87 but lost in the House of Clergy 84 in favour 92 against and 2 abstentions. The Bishops had begun to 'get it' the Clergy were well on their way but not the laity. The latter were probably influenced by the two Archbishops who definitely wanted legal protection for those opposed and strongly supported this amendment. Sadly the two Archbishops did NOT get it. The Archbishop of Canterbury even abstained on the final vote! The final vote delivered the compromise - a binding Code of Practice.

Again as stated before WATCH has considered the matter very carefully and prayerfully and decided that if our own amendment failed we would support a Code of Practice binding on the whole church but not one enshrined in legalisation and not one dismissive of women. This had been tested out with supporters in Dioceses and Senior Women Clergy and agreed. The opposition had never even considered losing the fight at this point and screamed with horror and threatened wholesale moves to the Roman Catholic Church. We have been here before. This is just what happened in 1992 and the Bishops gave in and the result was the Act of Synod

IT MUST NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. We are not there yet - there are more struggles ahead but for a few weeks we relax before limbering up again for a struggle of which many us are weary but like Francis Drake we are going to see it through to the end.

Jean Mayland is a retired priest. Until recently she was Co-ordinating Secretary and Assistant General Secretary at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.