Next week the General Synod meets for its February Group of Sessions (Feb 6th – 9th) and four items of business concerning the ordination of women to the episcopate will be on the agenda.

1. On Tuesday afternoon the draft illustrative Code of Practice will be presented and questions taken.

We are very pleased that a draft Code of Practice to accompany the women bishops Measure (legislation) has been published. The legislative position is that it cannot be properly considered or agreed until after the Measure has been given final approval by General Synod and then passed by Parliament, and so there is little point in commenting in detail on it at present. One key issue for us – that there should be no additional restriction on a diocesan bishop’s ministry (male or female) beyond that in the Measure – appears mostly to be adhered to in the draft Code.

The draft Code of Practice is accompanied by a Foreword by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. News reports have focused on this Foreword in which they pledge, with the House of Bishops, to continue to ordain those opposed to the ordination of women, and to seek to maintain a supply of bishops who have not ordained women or been ordained by women.

Though the status of the Foreword is unclear, WATCH is extremely concerned by these assurances, which we believe may serve to prolong the sense of uncertainty in the Church over the validity of women’s orders. This would be bad for women and bad for the Church as a whole. We further believe that the choice of people to be made bishops should be based only on their gifts, abilities and experience. There should not be positive discrimination for those who oppose women’s ministry.

2. On Wednesday morning there will be a report on the recent diocesan consultation on the draft legislation.

42 out of 44 dioceses voted for the draft legislation as it stands, and only 9 dioceses passed following motions calling for additional provisions.  The vast majority of church members want the present draft legislation to be approved and implemented as soon as possible.

Having managed to get 42 dioceses and the General Synod to agree on this legislation it would be extraordinary to change it at the last moment.

3. On Wednesday afternoon the Manchester Following Motion will be debated calling on the House of Bishops to amend the draft legislation in line with the 2010 Archbishops’ Amendment. A second following motion from Southwark diocese, taken as an amendment to the Manchester Motion, will ask the House of Bishops not to amend the present legislation.

The draft legislation is a major compromise for us, as it requires that there will still be parishes where women priests and bishops are not allowed to minister. The Manchester Motion calls for amendment of the legislation to include the Archbishops’ Amendment, giving even more provision for those opposed to women bishops. We are against this on a number of grounds:

  • The dioceses have indicated huge support for the draft legislation. The purpose of asking the dioceses to vote on an issue is to test whether it has support across the whole Church: for General Synod then to ignore the dioceses’ enthusiastic endorsement would be extraordinary.
  • If the legislation were amended in this way it would need to be voted on again by the dioceses – prolonging the whole process.
  • The Archbishops’ Amendment is as unclear now as it was when first presented: no further explanation has been offered as to how it would work in practice. WATCH wonders how co-jurisdiction can be expected to work when one of the bishops does not recognise the orders or authority of the other?
  • The Archbishops’ Amendment would, we believe, be used by those who oppose women bishops to separate parishes from their diocesan bishop and undermine the traditional understanding of the diocesan bishop as having authority over his or her whole diocese. We believe it would be a disastrous precedent to allow in law that parishes could choose their own bishop on this issue, or on any other.

4. On Thursday morning the draft legislation will be presented for final drafting.

The Steering Committee for the legislation will propose a small number of minor technical amendments and then the whole Synod will vote to send the legislation forward for Final Approval, via the House of Bishops. We look forward to a large majority in support of the legislation at this point.

A Way in the Wilderness – Monday 6th Feb

WATCH is hosting ‘A Way in the Wilderness’ on Monday 6th Feb at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey. There will be a panel discussion followed by a service during which we will pray for the Holy Spirit to bless and guide the General Synod as they address these crucial issues and seek to find a way forward for the Church of England.