It seemed right to leave a pause for reflection after the meeting of the General Synod in February, which devoted much time to further consideration of the draft legislation on women bishops.
We are hugely grateful to the Venerable Cherry Vann, Archdeacon of Rochdale, for introducing the Diocesan Synod Motion on behalf of the Diocese of Manchester, and for the gracious and generous way in which she did so. This motion invited the House of Bishops to consider amending the legislation, in order to introduce provisions for those unable to accept the ordination of women to the episcopate along the lines of those contained in the amendment proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which was very narrowly defeated in July 2010.
While the Manchester motion was not passed in the form proposed, the debate was a helpful one. Many members of Synod, including those from the Catholic Group, but by no means only them, spoke eloquently and forcefully in favour of arrangements whereby those unable to accept women in the episcopate, on theological grounds, would be able to continue in the Church of England with integrity and a real opportunity to flourish. It was enormously encouraging to hear the speeches of younger lay people, women and men, and younger priests, putting our case.
It was encouraging, too, that a third of the House of Clergy and well over 40% of the House of Laity voted against any amendment to the Manchester motion, indicating significant dissatisfaction with the legislation in its present form. In the House of Bishops, 16 bishops voted against amending the Manchester motion, among them the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of London and Durham, and a number of other senior diocesan bishops. A further 5 members of the House of Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Winchester, abstained.
The motion which was passed in its final form still gives the House of Bishops room to take a fresh look at the legislation; and, of course, it remains true that the House of Bishops has the discretion to amend the legislation in any way its sees fit, irrespective of the voting on this particular motion in the General Synod.
We shall be praying hard now for fresh wisdom at the meeting of the House of Bishops in May, and for a willingness to listen to those many voices in Synod which urged that, for the sake of the Church of England as a whole, and her unity and mission, a way forward may be found to enable supporters of women in the episcopate and those who cannot assent to the development to move forward together. We are not there yet. Forward in Faith continues to stand ready to help in any way, that such a solution may indeed be found.
X Jonathan Ebbsfleet
First Sunday in Lent, 2012