The process of ordaining women bishops in the Church of England began its steady course July 10 after a motion that calls for the practical and legislative arrangements of admitting women to the episcopate to be explored passed by a large majority with three amendments and after a four-hour debate at the Church's General Synod, meeting at York University in England.
The motion invites dioceses, deaneries and parishes "to continue serious debate and reflection on the theological, practical, ecumenical and missiological aspects of the issue" of ordaining women bishops.
It also calls for the formation of a legislative drafting group, "which will aim to include a significant representation of women," charged with "preparing the draft measure and amending canon necessary to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women to the office of bishop."
The legislative drafting group is also expected to prepare a draft of possible additional legal provisions in order to "seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion with those conscientiously unable to receive the ministry of women bishops."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, in presenting the unamended motion, explained that the July 8 debate -- when the principle of women bishops was agreed upon -- established the theological congruency that women should be admitted to the episcopate, "but the theological discussion is not over," he said. "This vote moves us further towards the question of how and when this should be recognized."
Williams said that the task now at hand is to continue to facilitate engagement between the contending voices in the debate, and one that encourages further theological thinking.
"The issues of jurisdiction and authority are undeniably unfinished business [and] we are some way short of having a set of propositions that will command a two-thirds majority when that is required," he said, referring to the canonical change that would be required to admit women to the episcopate. A canonical change would also require that such a measure be approved by the British parliament.
It is generally predicted that women bishops in England will not be canonically possible until at least 2012.
Referring to the eight proposed amendments, Williams asked that Synod not get entangled in too many of them. "They will only intensify levels of unproductive conflict," he said. "It would be good if people do not go away from this Synod feeling like they have engaged in a "zero-sum" transaction."
Debate began with Suffragan Bishop Martyn Jarrett of Beverley saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury had been rather optimistic, especially in light of the "inadequate" proposals from the Bishops of Guildford and Gloucester in their report, "Women in the Episcopate," he said.
Describing the motion as "legislating for near schism" and "thrashing around in the dark," Jarrett begged Synod not to support it "when such a lack of consensus exists."
The Very Rev. Vivienne Faull, Dean of Leicester, was a member of the group that produced the Rochester Report, a survey of the theological issues concerning women bishops.
"Today we begin a new phase," she said, referring to the motion's language of discernment as being the beginning of a vocational task of legislating and listening and learning from each other. "Although the vote on Saturday showed a majority, it also showed that 30 percent did not support the principle [of women bishops]. I want to suggest that the next stage of this process requires us to reflect honestly together and look at the consequences in order to be generously imaginative of one another."
Faull acknowledged that such a process will take time and require sensitivity. "I don't want to foreclose the imaginative and potentially reconciling work," she said. "We need a process that is not a straightjacket...that will build relationships of trust and not walls of division."
A Church of England Youth Council representative, Tom Pugh, said that he doesn't have an issue with women bishops because he comes from a different generation where men and women seem to be treated equally at all levels.
"I am told there was a woman prime minister, but that was well before my time," he said, as laughter filled the hall. "I have never known the world without the ordained ministry of women. Please help me understand your view. We would urge Synod to include young people in the many conversations that are taking place on this issue."
The Rev. David Waller of the Diocese of Chelmsford reminded Synod that for many members of the Church of England, the votes in the early '90s to admit women priests were an emotional rollercoaster.
"For someone who was opposed the ordination of women on theological grounds, I found it difficult to continue in the church," he said. "But the provisions made through the actions of Synod made it just possible. I felt it was possible to remain in the church of our baptism on the basis that we trusted what the Church of England was saying to us."
Waller insisted that those who object to this move be listened to because "it is no good if we do not get that sacramental insurance that we have received so far."
Bishop Michael Perham of Gloucester was one of the bishops who drafted the document on "Women in the Episcopate," which explored fundamental points of transferred Episcopal authority (TEA), a provision that could offer alternative oversight to those who refuse to accept the leadership of a woman bishop.
He explained that those for whom TEA was being devised did not believe it went far enough and those in favor of women bishops believe it went too far.
Referring to amendment 28 that calls for a submission from the legislative drafting group to Synod by February 2007, Perham said: "We must not slow down too much the process Synod has begun, but we also must not go at breakneck speed. If the legislative group has to report to the February Synod it will get another half-baked answer. It is better to slow down a little and to get it right."
Perham noted that four necessary components to the debate are clarity, conversation, affirmation -- of the contributions women have made to the church and for those who do not share that joy -- and action, "careful consultative and prayerful action," he said.
Moving amendment 21, intended to endorse resolution 111.2 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference that affirms as "loyal Anglicans" those who both dissent and assent to the ordination of women, the Rev. Prebendary David Houlding of London said that moving forward by consensus is preferable to dividing by majority.
"It was clear that we decided last year that we were not going to divide over this issue," he said. "That the ordination of women in the episcopate would be accompanied by a provision for those who were opposed to it. This amendment will make it clear that that provision does have to be made. It lays down the marker that we are determined to hold together."
Houlding wished to clarify that the gap needs to be bridged and that Synod is determined to do it. "This is a defining moment for any of us," he said. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if the newspaper headlines tomorrow say that the church has decided not to split over the question of women bishops?"
The amendment passed after debate and resulted in 209 voting for and 166 against.
Sister Ann Williams attempted to pass an amendment that made reference to the Rochester Report and another document titled "Resources for Reflection." After Archbishop Williams cited several other resources that could be mentioned and raised concerns that it would be limiting to mention just those two, the amendment failed.
Another failed amendment tried to refer the question of provisions for those who cannot agree with women in the episcopate back to the House of Bishops for further consideration.
Proposed by the Rev. Canon Cynthia Dowdle of Liverpool, an amendment that asked for the proposed legislative drafting group to include "a significant representation of women" especially in light of the Anglican Consultative Council resolution calling for equal representation of women at the decision-making tables of the Anglican Communion, was carried with little debate.
"The time has come for us to get into the structures of the Church of England a better balance at all levels when it comes to gender," she said. "Women's voices must be more in balance when we come to draft the legislation for this motion."
After two further failed amendments, the Rev. Canon Jane Sinclair of the Sheffield Diocese moved to insert reference to Canon A4 of church law that states "...those who are so made, ordained, or consecrated bishops, priests, or deacons ... are lawfully made, ordained, or consecrated, and ought to be accounted, both by themselves and others, to be truly bishops, priests, or deacons."
"The amendment will set down a clear marker with the legislative drafting group and prevent the Church of England from falling into deep schism," Sinclair said. "One of the chief causes of disunity is the non-recognition rather than belief."
Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop John Hind of Chichester raised concerns about the identification of one canon alone because it is church law, but after further debate the amendment was carried in a vote by houses with 27 bishops voting for and 11 against, 118 clergy voting for and 67 against, and 103 laity voting for and 93 against.
A final amendment that asked for the work of the legislative drafting group to be submitted to Synod by February 2007 failed once Archbishop Williams insisted that the debate had already suffered from excessively tight timetables.
Further debate on the amended motion heard from: Kay Dyer of Coventry, who urged the steady pace that the Archbishop of Canterbury encouraged; Bishop Geoffrey Rowell of the Diocese in Europe, who reminded Synod of the Archbishop of York's call for gracious magnanimity; and the Venerable Nigel Peyton, Archdeacon of Newark, who said that the Church's call to Christian unity "is being true to ourselves," and urged Synod "to seize the moment with confidence and support the motion whole-heartedly."
Rachel Jepson of the Diocese of Birmingham explained that the process of discernment about women's ministry is two-decades long and that it is an ongoing process. "The predicted split about women priests has not happened," she said. "Those skeptical have pleasantly witnessed the contributions. Women bishops will bring more positives than negatives and the full humanity of Christ will be reflected in the church."
Bishop John Saxbee of Lincoln asked Synod not to underestimate the enormous task before the legislative drafting group.
"We have been around the track before and we don't want to do it again and end up exactly where we started," he said, evoking the Archbishop of York's comments about reinventing the flat tire. "The object of all this is God. As long as we hold before us that sense that God is the object of all our love and praise, we have the ability to move forward together."
Before the vote on the amended motion, Archbishop Williams reminded Synod of the four governing principles of clarity, charity, affirmation and action, and commended them for employment as the process of women bishops moves forward.
"Clarity does begin and end with a clear vision of God, which is why it's connected with charity," he said. Affirmation -- we've heard serious affirmation of all kinds of the ministries and the gifts women have brought and are giving to every level of our life. Action -- we need to move forward so that we can begin to move at a steady pace."
Williams also upheld the language of loyalty, obedience, mutual obligation and recognition. "We are faced with an immense practical challenge of how to express that in anything like legal terms," he said, recognizing that there is much work to do in defining those terms. "It needn't be as inevitably frustrating if we begin from a sense of recognizing in one another, not simply status, but the gifts in all of us. We may be able to handle some of those difficulties better."
Finally, Williams acknowledged that if decisions take longer, but are more generally open, then the process has not been wasted.
"We're here because God has given us certain gifts and we're trying to work out what to do with them and how to respond to them," he said. "Loyalty, obedience, mutual obligation, recognition, are the seedbed of a genuinely fruitful, evangelical and ecclesiastical ministry. I plea that we see this process as the seedbed for the creativeness for the future."
The full text of the amended motion, which passed by a large majority, follows:
14. 'That this Synod, endorsing Resolution 111.2 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 "that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans" and believing that the implications of admitting women to the episcopate will best be discerned by continuing to explore in detail the practical and legislative arrangements:
(a) invite dioceses, deaneries and parishes to continue serious debate and reflection on the theological, practical, ecumenical and missiological aspects of the issue;
(b) invite the Archbishops' Council, in consultation with the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops and the Appointments Committee, to secure the early appointment of a legislative drafting group, which will aim to include a significant representation of women in the spirit of Resolution 13/31 of the Anglican Consultative Council passed in July 2005, charged with:
(i) preparing the draft measure and amending canon necessary to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women to the office of bishop;
(ii) preparing a draft of possible additional legal provision consistent with Canon A4 to establish arrangements that would seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion with those conscientiously unable to receive the ministry of women bishops;
(iii) submitting the results of its work to the House of Bishops for consideration and submission to Synod; and
(c) instruct the Business Committee to make time available, before first consideration of the draft legislation, for the Synod to consider, in the light of any views expressed by the House of Bishops, the arrangements proposed in the drafting group's report.'