Where we are now – Anglican women in ordained ministry

The Church of England depends on its women priests. Twenty years ago (11.11.92) General Synod voted to ordain women as priests. Today we have over three thousand women ministering in parishes and others in chaplaincies in hospitals, prisons, schools and universities. One in three priests is female and almost 50% of new ordinands. Four of our cathedrals have female Deans and there are 26 female archdeacons active in the leadership teams of dioceses

There have been women bishops in the Anglican Communion since Barbara Harris was ordained in 1989. Since then 34 women have been consecrated in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Cuba, South Africa and the USA. In all these provinces of the Anglican Communion, no legal provision was made for those who oppose women in ordained ministry. Other provinces as varied as Scotland and the Sudan have opened the way for women bishops but not yet made a first appointment.

The discussion so far…

GS voted on a motion to ordain women as deacon, priest and bishop in 1978 – it lost. We have been discussing this issue ever since – for a whole generation.

The present legislative process began in 2000. Since then there have been 3 major church reports, regular debates in Synod and fifteen months of detailed drafting work. All the dioceses in the country have been consulted and at every step of the way support for this legislation to enable women to be bishops has been overwhelming: 42 of 44 dioceses voted ‘yes’ – with more than 75% of all votes cast in favour.

The provision for those opposed in the draft legislation

One reason for the overwhelming support for this legislation is the generous support offered to those who are opposed. Under the draft Measure any parish can request a male priest or bishop on the grounds of their theological conviction and these convictions must be respected. This will be backed up by a Statutory Code of Practice with legal force. Some people say that this is not enough, but it is as much as can be given without seriously damaging the Church – and 29 dioceses voted against further provision being made.

This is a compromise for everyone

The draft ‘Measure’ is a considerable compromise for those in favour of women bishops. There will be parishes where women will be barred from serving as priests, and women bishops will have to delegate to a male bishop where the parish requests it. Nowhere else in the Anglican Communion has provision been spelled out in law at all – things have been worked out through building relationships ‘on the ground’. Most of WATCH’s supporters would much prefer to have seen this sort of arrangement in the Church of England too. But we have compromised so as to make space for those who are finding this change difficult.

Voting ‘yes’ for this would also be a compromise for those opposed because the legislation does not give them as much reassurance as they would like.

The 20th November

On Tuesday 20th November, General Synod will have to consider “The Measure” as it stands. Nothing can be done to amend it now without starting all over again.

Some, from both sides, want to wait in the hope of getting something better, but to do so would be incredibly destructive. Another 10 years going over and over the same arguments would cripple the Church’s credibility and mission. It would also deprive the Church of the skills and wisdom of women bishops. To waste our time and talents in this way would be quite wrong.

Despite our concerns that this Measure does not do enough to eradicate discrimination from the Church, WATCH is praying that Synod will vote ‘yes’ on 20th November. This is far from the perfect Measure for women, but it is what has been negotiated after years of consultation amongst those of all perspectives. A ‘yes’ will enable women bishops to be appointed whilst allowing that those who disagree to have a respected place within the Church of England.

Time to Decide!

‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’Ecclesiastes 3:1

There is a time for discussion and a time for decision. Twenty years after the vote for women’s ordination to the priesthood, and twelve years after we started exploring this issue in detail, it’s time to decide – time to move on.

The Reverend Rachel Weir Chair of WATCH said  “This week we have been celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the vote for women priests. We pray that next week, Synod will complete the work that was started in November 1992 and vote for women bishops”