Church of England votes to ordain women bishops

Published July 8, 2008

The 1998 Lambeth Conference, the once-per-decade gathering of Angican bishops, welcomed 11 women bishops from Canada, New Zealand and the United States.


The (Anglican) Church of England’s governing general synod meeting in York has voted by more than two to one to bring forward legislation to allow the consecration of women as bishops.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we are finally taking the next step. The church has waited a long time for this day,” said Christina Rees, chairperson of the pro-women bishops movement Watch, following the vote late on Monday, July 7.

The synod decided against a proposal for male “super bishops” to oversee parishes opposed to appointing women to the episcopate. Instead it was decided that a code of practice should be drawn up to accommodate those “who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests.”

Several speakers during the debate warned that a code of practice would not provide sufficiently robust safeguards for those opposed to the ordination of women.

About 1,300 clergy had threatened to leave the church if the synod failed to agree safeguards for those objecting to women bishops, but a substantial number of these are retired. (The Church of England has more than 18,000 licensed ministers, according to the Church of England Yearbook.(

The synod’s decision for women bishops followed a contentious debate lasting more than six hours. At one stage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, held his head in his hands, and the Bishop of Dover, Stephen Venner, broke down in tears saying he was ashamed of the church for ignoring those opposed to the consecration of women as bishops.

Strongest support for change came from the clergy, who make up one of the three “houses” of the synod, the church’s parliament, with 124 in favour and 44 against. The bishops voted 28 to 12 in favour, and the laity 111 to 68. Overall there were seven abstentions.

The first women bishops are, however, unlikely to be appointed before 2014 at the earliest said Anglican sources.

Further details of the unspecified code of practice and the work of a drafting group which will draw up legislation to bring in women bishops are expected to go before the next meeting of the synod in February 2009. A final vote will require a two-thirds majority for the measure, which will then require ratification by the British parliament.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said he had “not very comfortably” come to the conclusion that provisions must be made for those opposed to women bishops, but he added, “I am deeply unhappy with schemes or solutions which involve the structural humiliation of women who are elected to the episcopate and end up haggling about the limits to their authority.”

Women were first ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1994 and for several years more than half those training for the priesthood have been women.

Two women bishops were this year consecrated in Australia’s Anglican church. There are also women bishops in Anglican churches in New Zealand, Canada and the United States. A number of other Anglican churches allow the consecration of women, but do not at present have any women bishops.

In April, Anglican clergy in Wales narrowly voted against a measure, supported unanimously by their bishops, to allow women to be appointed as bishops.


Keep on reading

Skip to content