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By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor, and Sam Marsden
4:05PM BST 06 Jul 2012
He issued a direct plea to clergy ahead of the Church’s General Synod, which gathered in York today, not to vote down the plans during preliminary stages and allow an historic vote on the issue finally to go ahead next week.
Opening a series of meetings of bishops and clergy, Dr Williams said he “longs” to see women ordained as bishops and said its defeat at this stage would be “bad news” for the Church.
He told them that he hoped “with all my heart” that the long-awaited vote would finally go ahead bringing to an end 12 years of wrangles on the subject.
But he reiterated his belief that there could yet be “proper provision” for those in the Church would refuse to accept women bishops on theological grounds.
All but two of the Church’s 44 dioceses have voted in favour of the change, which Dr Williams hopes to see agreed before he steps down later this year, securing his legacy.
A complicated eleventh-hour compromise offer drawn up by the current all-male bishops has so far only served to anger both sides, with supporters of women bishops arguing that it could leave them as “second class” bishops.
A final vote on the plan is due to take place on Monday, although there are growing calls for it to be postponed.
But there were fears that opponents could have killed off the measure altogether at yesterday’s preliminary meetings.
As few as 25 votes could deliver a death knell to historic plans to ordain women as bishops in the Church of England despite strong overall support for the reform, estimates seen by The Daily Telegraph suggest.
Setting out that possibility, Dr Williams warned them: ”I underline that because it is important that we look in to the abyss here.”
He went on: “Like the majority of members of the Synod and majority of members of the Church of England, I’m very firmly of the view that we need to proceed as speedily as we can because I, like most of you, long to see women bishops in the Church of England.
“I also long for there to be the kind of provision for those who continue to have theological reservations on this subject, for their position to be secured in a way that would enable them to feel grateful for the outcome.”
He added: “The defeat of the legislation at this point … would not seem to be in anyone’s interest.
“If I may put my thumb in the scales, it would be very bad news for the Church of England and for the processes of the General Synod.”
Because of the significance of the change, there must be a two thirds majority in all three houses of the synod – bishops, clergy and laity.
“It could go down this time and if it is delayed until the autumn I think it is almost certain to go down next time,” said the Revd Rod Thomas, chairman of the influential Reform evangelical group.
“It is a ‘could-be’ this time, and a ‘probably’ next time.”
Private calculations suggest that if only 10 to 15 per cent of the 200 members of the House of Laity swung behind the traditionalists it could kill off the measure.
“I think [the question of whether there will be women bishops soon] is hanging in the balance,” said Revd Thomas.
“But what is also hanging in the balance is whether there is to be another ‘Great Ejection’ and whether the Anglican Church can continue to be a church for the nation or whether it is going to be narrowly sectarian.”
The Great Ejection was when a large bloc of puritans left the Church of England after the 1662 Act of Uniformity.
“We are saying ‘what sort of church do we want to be?” he added.
“They go on about inclusiveness … but if they genuinely believe in inclusiveness are they willing to include those who hold to a traditional understanding of the Bible’s teaching.
“Inclusion does not just mean finding a convenient ghetto to which people can be shoved, it means inclusion in the Church.”
The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to Commons Speaker John Bercow, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We would prefer for the Synod to adjourn this debate.
“I really do not know any women who would be prepared to become a bishop with that enshrined in law.”
She added: “The impact (of the row) is already taking its toll on the church. We need to focus on mission and not this.”
Thanks to ‘Thinking Anglicans’, we have this article on the up-to-the-moment- opinion of Dr.Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, on what may happen at this weekend’s General Synod reaction to the amended Draft Measure for the Ordination of Women as Bishops in the Church of England. ++Rowan’s dilemma is described here:
“.. he reiterated his belief that there could yet be “proper provision” for those in the Church would refuse to accept women bishops on theological grounds. “All but two of the Church’s 44 dioceses have voted in favour of the change, which Dr Williams hopes to see agreed before he steps down later this year, securing his legacy.”
Unfortunately, his legacy may have brought the Church of England to the point where the legislation may fail – because of the last minute amendments made by the House of Bishops to the original Draft Measure agreed by the previous General Synod.
Typical of the opponents to the ordination of women as Bishop is this reaction from the head of ‘Reform’, a conservative evangelical entity in the C.of E. -
“It could go down this time and if it is delayed until the autumn I think it is almost certain to go down next time,” said the Revd Rod Thomas, chairman of the influential Reform evangelical group. “It is a ‘could-be’ this time, and a ‘probably’ next time.”
The irony here is that, not only conservative Evangelicals are opposed to Women Bishops – on account of their objection to women having any authority over men in the Church; there are also some conservative Anglo-Catholics, objecting on the grounds of ‘breaking with tradition in the Church’ and the problems they have with what they are pleased to call ‘Sacramental Assurance’, who join with the Evangelicals on this single issue – the exclusion of Women in ministry in the Church of England.
With many leading Women Clergy in the Church of England unwilling to concede to the role of ‘Second-Class Bishops’ if the amended Draft measure were agreed to by General Synod, it is likely that the measure will be defeated. Perhaps the only glimmer of light here – although it would not in accord with the ABC’s expressed wishes – would be for General Synod to request further thought by the House of Bishops on the possibility of reducing the perceived danger of initiating and enshrining in canon law a Two-Tier Episcopate, consisting of (a) Male Bishops opposing Women Bishops; and, (b) Female Bishops, and Male Bishops who accept Women into the Episcopate.
In the meantime, those of us in the world-wide Anglican Communion who have welcomed and experienced the ministry of Women Bishops, will be focussing our attention on the decisions made at General Synod in York on Monday, 9 July.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand