Gerry O’Brien has a cunning plan to extend the period of reception

The General Synod comes to the end of its five year life in July, but before it does so it will be asked to set in motion a legislative process which could lead to the ordination of women as bishops.

Other provinces of the Anglican Communion already have women bishops. America and Canada have tried it, though whether they are still Anglican is open to question. New Zealand tried this innovation, though their single example has now retired and no woman has replaced her. Their situation, however, is very different to ours.

Immigrants to the colonial territories generally brought their faith with them. Many were seeking religious freedom and were attracted to the idea of living in an environment which was more pluralistic than was the case at home. Non-conformity flourished and Catholicism was not subject to the restrictions that existed in the old country.

The result is that in the new world, Anglicanism is but one sect amongst many. There is no parochial system in the sense that we understand it here. Anglican congregations, like everyone else, are gathered congregations and people pick and choose. Among such Anglicans ‘central churchmanship’ is far more pervasive than it is here.

I think you can tentatively draw the conclusion that there will be issues, which while they may not cause a schism in a more homogeneous Anglican Church, could well be explosive and divisive in a broader Anglican Church like the Church of England.

Since 1992 we have lived uneasily through a period of reception, but can this properly be extended to include women bishops? Would it not be wiser to have a third province in which women could be bishops, so that the experiment could continue, but without jeopardising the unity of the Provinces of Canterbury and York?

As it happens, there is already a third province in this country where there is no bar on women becoming bishops. It is called the Scottish Episcopal Church. Anglican priests in England (both male and female) may currently be considered for any Episcopal vacancies north of the border. Indeed the Bishop of Tonbridge was translated to Edinburgh a few years ago, so it is quite possible, in practice as well as in theory.

There are currently only a few women priests with CVs who would merit consideration for Episcopal vacancies, though that number will no doubt rise in the future. Press speculation last year mentioned only three or four names. However, it will be interesting to see whether those responsible for appointments in Scotland decide that any of them are to be preferred compared with the men available.

If no women were appointed in Scotland, then the question arises as to why the women bishops lobby should advocate permissive legislation in England as well. The only reasons I can think of are either that they imagine the standards looked for on the episcopal bench in England might be lower than those in Scotland, or that their concern for the unity of the Church of England is less than they would care to admit.