Today the C of E’s General Synod has met to discuss draft legislation which could result in the ordination of the first women as bishops within the Church of England.  A draft of the legislation has previously been referred to the dioceses and approved with very strong support (42/44 dioceses voting yes), but in May an amendment was added by the archbishops which strengthens the ability of parishes who cannot accept women as bishops to receive care from an alternative (male) bishop.  In the early 2000s I did a large-scale piece of research into attitudes to women’s priesting in the C of E and as interviewees looked into the future at the possibility of women joining the episcopate there was a strong feeling amongst supporters of women’s ordained ministry that next time around – when the vote on women bishops came – many would rather wait longer for women bishops than vote for a piece of legislation which significantly compromised their status.  In the approach to July’s synod, such a prospect was beginning to look a real possibility.  As it happened, Synod voted to adjourn the debate on the legislation to allow the House of Bishops to reconsider and redraft Clause 5 (the part dealing with provisions for parishes which cannot accept a female bishop).   For myself I think I have a relatively low theology of priesthood, in that to me the New Testament only really seems to talk about two sorts of priests – the priesthood of Christ, and the priesthood of all believers.  A Christian ministerial priesthood of the kind which actually evolved in the Church may well be consonant with scripture but is not required by it – instead, church leadership in the New Testament primarily seems to me to be marked by a calling, a shared recognition of that calling, evidence of a good life, and an accompanying gifting.  This seems to have been something experienced by both women and men in the New Testament Church.  But having evolved an institutional structure of ordained ministerial priesthood, it seems illogical to ordain women as priests/presbyters but exclude them from the office of bishop.  Moreover, the experience of the Church since 2004 suggests that women’s ministry in ordained priestly/presbyteral roles is clearly bearing much fruit.  In the end, although it would have been nice to have been celebrating a vote for women bishops today, I am glad that there is now an opportunity to reshape the legislation into a simpler ‘yes’ which follows more closely the draft legislation which was approved by the dioceses.

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