And so it continues

Simon Killwick on where we are with the women bishops legislation

The atmosphere at the July Synod was better than expected, given the fall-out over the failure of the previous Measure in November last year; some of us also remembered the hostile atmosphere during the equivalent pre-legislative debate in July 2008. The facilitated conversations, which took up most of a day this July, were a big help; they got people talking to each other rather than at each other, with numbers of people talking to each other for the first time. The improved atmosphere in the pre-legislative debate this time round was shown by some helpful speeches made by supporters of women bishops, and by the voting procedures adopted.

In 2008, there was a call for a vote by Houses on almost every amendment to the main motion (and there were quite a few amendments); for such a call to be successful, at least 25 members need to stand in support: in 2008, over 100 members stood in support each time, which felt very intimidating; this year, barely 25 stood, and after the first two amendments, the calls petered out. Archdeacon Clive Mansell articulated the feeling of the majority of the Synod, when he said that such calls negated the more positive atmosphere created by the facilitated discussions.

Game-changing proposals

Most of the amendments were lost, but the voting clearly showed that option 1 would not be successful at Final Approval: over one-third of the House of Laity remain clear that there needs to be better provision for those who cannot receive the ministry of women bishops. The Bishop of Dover’s amendment was a game-changer (1) in helping to get the motion through with the majority it was given, and (2) in setting a House of Bishops declaration on a very different footing. The Bishop’s amendment was to the effect that there should be a mandatory grievance procedure which parishes could invoke if they considered that they had not been fairly treated under the terms of the Declaration. There is a world of difference between a Code of Practice, decisions under which could only be challenged in the secular courts by judicial review, and a Declaration whose terms could be enforced through an ecclesiastical tribunal.

The other game-changer was the amendment that was never put, which came from that master of Synod procedures, the Bishop of Willesden. Having thought of an amendment which he could not table because the deadline for tabling amendments was passed, Bishop Pete brilliantly floated his amendment in a speech, and invited those who agreed with him to include the words ‘I agree with Pete’ in their speeches, which many did, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Pete’s idea was that the Steering Committee for the legislation be larger than usual, and crucially include those who were unable to receive the ministry of women bishops (by convention, Steering Committees normally only include those who are fully supportive of the legislation). The Steering Committee should then go into a process of facilitated conversations to try and reach consensus on the legislative package; were consensus to be reached, the customary Revision Committee stage could be omitted, which would both save time, and prevent the consensus being unravelled by amendments. Bishop Pete’s proposal was a game-changer in holding out the hope of further development of the legislation, leading to consensus; it thereby helped the main motion to pass with the number of votes it received.

Close vote

Archdeacon Clive Mansell tabled two amendments, one calling for a new Act of Synod, and the other for ‘provision to prevent legal challenge to patrons, bishops, PCC members and parish representatives acting properly in accordance with their duties in the appointment process for an incumbent or priest-in-charge.’ Both amendments were lost, but the voting on the second was so close that an electronic count had to be made, which showed 200 votes for the amendment, and 210 against. Bishop Nigel Stock, moving the main motion on behalf of the House of Bishops, gave an undertaking that this area would be looked at further, as the vote was so close.

There seemed fairly wide acceptance of the five propositions put forward by the House of Bishops Working Party earlier this year. The propositions were designed both to affirm the episcopal ministry of women, and to say that there was an ongoing process of discernment in the wider Church, and that those who were unable to receive the episcopal ministry of women were within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and practice. There is a kind of creative tension about the propositions, which might be described as part of the genius of Anglicanism; they are a bit like the words used at the administration of Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer, which are capable of both Catholic and Protestant readings.


Fr Paul Benfield moved an amendment which was backed by the Catholic Group and others; although it was lost, it received healthy support, from the Archbishop of York and over 40% of the House of Laity, among others. The loss of this amendment means that the issue of the jurisdiction of bishops is no longer on the agenda. Bishops provided for traditionalists may still exercise a range of episcopal functions, but they would do so by permission of diocesan bishops, or by delegation from them. It would be important to remember clause 8(2) which was inserted into the Measure which failed last November, at the same time as the ill-fated clause 5(1)C; unlike clause 5(1)C, clause 8(2) attracted no controversy, and was really a statement of fact. Clause 8(2) stated that where a bishop exercises episcopal ministry by way of delegation from a diocesan bishop, ‘the legal authority which he has by virtue of such delegation does not affect, and is distinct from, the authority to exercise the functions of a bishop which that bishop has by virtue of his holy orders’; in other words, delegation refers to legal authority alone, not to the sacramental power which a bishop has by virtue of his episcopal ordination – the language of ‘permission’ would seem to express this better than that of ‘delegation’. Nonetheless, the removal of jurisdiction from the agenda represents a very significant loss for our constituency.
Another major area of concern for our clergy is the swearing of Oaths of Canonical Obedience; this was recognized by one lay member of the Synod, John Ward, who helpfully suggested that the Oath could simply be dispensed with. Essentially, the Oath is about promising to obey the Canons; since all clergy are bound to obey the Canons anyway, swearing an Oath is not necessary. An equivalent situation would be that of the laws of England, which we are all bound to obey; we do not need to swear an oath to the Queen to that effect.

Important issues

The entrenchment of provisions for traditionalists is another important issue. The Bishop of Gloucester helpfully suggested that a new Measure could include the provision that a House of Bishops declaration could only be amended in the future with the approval of a two-thirds majority of the General Synod. This would certainly help to give durability to any new arrangements.

Steering Committee

Bishop Pete’s idea of a larger-than-usual Steering Committee was taken up by the Appointments Committee, who appointed a Steering Committee of 15, which includes five members who voted against the legislation last November. While we know that the Steering Committee will be having facilitated discussions, it remains to be seen how the Steering Committee understand their task: will they follow strictly the result of votes on the various amendments in the pre-legislative debate, or will they take a more creative approach, as advocated by Bishop Pete, to try and reach consensus? The evidence of the voting in the pre-legislative debate is that a strict interpretation of the task would lead to failure at Final Approval, whereas a more creative approach would enable the whole Church of England to move forward together. ND

The Five Propositions

Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold 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;

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

Since it will continue 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 will acknowledge 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;

Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England will remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and 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.
(from para. 12 in the House of Bishops report GS 1886)