Women bishops vote a 'grim day', says Justin Welby

Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby The Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, urged a 'yes' vote at the general synod

The next Archbishop of Canterbury has called the rejection of women bishops a "very grim day", as bishops prepare for an emergency meeting on the issue.

The ordination of women bishops in the Church of England was narrowly rejected by its ruling general synod on Tuesday.

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, who takes over the Church's top role next year, said the lost vote was hard "most of all for women priests and supporters".

Critics had said the change would not bring unity to the Church.

The proposed legislation paving the way for women bishops needed to gain two-thirds majority support in each of the synod's three houses - bishops, clergy and laity - but fell short by six votes in the House of Laity.

The result was greeted with emotion, with some supporters seen crying.

Bishop Welby, the current Bishop of Durham and a supporter of women bishops, tweeted overnight: "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God."

Rowan Williams: "I'm feeling very much for women in ministry in the Church of England"

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, who will give his farewell address later, spoke of his "deep personal sadness" after the vote.

He said: "Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and... it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness that that is not the case."

The House of Bishops will meet from 08:30 GMT to "consider the consequences of the vote", the Church's media office said.

The general synod's voting requirements meant that although 324 members voted to approve the proposed legislation and 122 voted to reject it, it was not passed.

The House of Laity is the largest element of the general synod and is made up of lay members of the Church elected by its 44 dioceses.

The votes were 44 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity.


The first challenge for Church leaders will be how to deal with the fall-out from this vote. Already some in the parishes are describing this as one of the Church's blackest days.

The damage will include a hammering in the media. The outside world will find the Church's continued inability to push this issue forward mystifying - especially as in so many other countries in the Anglican communion there are already many women bishops.

There will be many questions too about the Church's system of democracy where major change has to be agreed by two-thirds majorities amongst bishops, clergy and the laity.

The vote was only lost by a handful of votes amongst lay members, which means the vast majority of Anglicans are in favour and will feel deeply disappointed.

The next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will need all his legendary mediation skills to navigate a way forward and to find new legislation which accommodates more traditionalists without then alienating the liberal wing of the Church.

Controversy had centred on the provisions for parishes opposed to women bishops to request supervision by a stand-in male bishop.

Christina Rees, a synod member who has spent 20 years campaigning for women bishops, said: "It feels as if the House of Laity betrayed the entire Church of England last night.

"And I think basically that the people, the sort of extremes in our Church - the very conservative evangelicals and very traditionalist Anglo-Catholics - have no idea how this will be read by most people."

She said she thought that, to most people, "this just looks like blatant discrimination".

Equalities minister Maria Miller said the vote outcome was "very disappointing", and showed that the Church was "behind the times", sources said.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, said those Church members who were in favour of women bishops, but who had voted against the move because of concerns over the provisions for traditionalist parishes, were central to finding a solution.

"There's a very big challenge, I think, to those who voted against but actually pledged themselves to see in what way they could move forward so that women can be bishops in the Church of England," he said.

"There's a very big responsibility on them and upon the bishops in their leadership to bring this into effect as soon as possible."

The Catholic Group on the General Synod, which backed a "no" vote, said in a statement: "We regret the synod was put in the position whereby draft legislation failed at final approval because it was unclear and unfair in its provision for those who, in conscience, are unable to accept the ministry of women as bishops or priests."

It called on the House of Bishops to reconvene the talks started in the summer between representatives of different groups, chaired by Bishop Welby.

Zoe Ham, Church Society: "I am happy that the legislation in its form today has been rejected"

The Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative evangelical grouping Reform, which also recommended a "no" vote, said: "My overall conclusion is that it is very good news for the Church of England.

"We have avoided what could have been a disastrous mistake for our unity and witness."

In New Zealand, where women have been ordained as bishops for decades, the Bishop of Christchurch, the Rt Rev Victoria Matthews, described the decision as a "product of fear".

"I have to admit I was gutted by the announcement. I would describe it as more than disappointing. As someone who is a woman in leadership and someone who dearly loves the Anglican communion, it was quite depressing."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    As a member of the Anglican Church, this decision puts me in a difficult place. I do not wish to contribute to a church which discriminates. However my own local church is very much in favour on women bishops. I am shocked by this decision & am looking to move to another church to avoid contributing to the CoE through "parish share"

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    The CoE has been 'moving with the times' ever since it abandoned the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible in the 1960s. Since then it has embraced women priests and done much else to 'modernise' itself. The expectation was that the CoE would become 'relevant' and that the pews would soon be filled to overflowing. How wrong our leaders were then, and how wrong they are today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    How ridiculous the House of Laity can over rule the Bishops and Clergy. They need to get their 'houses' in (the right) order.

    And yes Christina Rees I imagine like me most of us do think this "just looks like blatant discrimination".

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Surely the Synod has to now review the voting process - any "democratic" process where the side with substantially lesser votes can win is flawed and inherintly un-democratic.

    In my opinion change the voting rules, then hold the ballot again. No real need to change the legislation from its current form.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Whether we like the result or not; both sides, after much soul searching, voted for what they thought was RIGHT!
    Maybe the quick critics on this site should take time to research WHY people (men AND women on both sides) voted as they did


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