‘Women Bishops Measure’ in the Church of England – ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

We would urge those of you who are concerned about issues of gender equality within the church to support this appeal from Hilary Cotton, Vice Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church). Although this is primarily an issue for the Church of England, as the established church ministering to all, it does have a wider significance. We also commend Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes’s excellent blog on this issue (mirandathrelfallholmes.blogspot.com)

Please write to your Diocesan bishop before 21 May.

The House of Bishops meets that day to discuss whether to amend the Measure that will allow women to be consecrated as bishops. They have been asked by General Synod NOT to amend it substantially (as this would require sending it back around the Dioceses for another debate), but there will be great pressure on them to amend it in small ways to appease opponents.

The difficulty we see is that what appears small to the bishops may have enormous consequences for the Church – for example, putting in law that a parish can have a male bishop who has not been ordained by a woman, or who has not ordained women, creates two strands of bishops in the Church of England in perpetuity – those who can minister across all parishes, and those who can only minister in parishes who accept them.

We know that the bishops are eager to make sure that the Measure is passed by General Synod in July. They are considering amending it because they believe that shifting the balance of the compromise it contains towards opponents will ensure it receives the required 2/3majorities in all 3 houses.

We are equally eager that it should pass in July, but we are also clear that any changes to the set of compromises in the Measure that have been painstakingly constructed over seven years of discussion and debate will place those majorities at even more serious risk. Many General Synod members (particularly in the House of Clergy – where there is now a large number of women) have already said that they will be unable to vote for a Measure in July that has been amended in this way. The bishops do not seem to have taken this message seriously yet.

In 1993 the Bishops introduced the Episcopal Act of Synod (creating flying-bishops) as a last-minute, untested addition to the legislation allowing women to be ordained as priests. The consequences of this have been enormous and in many ways disastrous for the Church. We do not want to run the risk of such action again, however well-intentioned.

Please would you write to your Diocesan bishop before 21 May? A brief note is fine, saying that you want women to be bishops on the same basis as men, and that the legislation as drafted has the overwhelming support of the Dioceses, so please don’t change it now. Careful argument is not required at this stage – others will be providing that – strength of feeling and enthusiasm for women bishops in the manner agreed by the dioceses is what is important.

This is the last opportunity for the Measure to be changed, and only the bishops can change it. Those who will not accept women as bishops are writing to their bishops urging them to make sure this happens. Your letter matters in ensuring that the Measure that is voted on in July is what the vast majority of the Church supports.

Hilary Cotton

Head of Campaign and Vice-Chair, WATCH

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