What happened?

Today was not a good or easy day.  After seven hours of debate and well over a hundred speeches the General Synod did not approve the Measure to enable women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England.

The Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Measure (44 to 3 with 2 abstentions).  The Clergy voted substantially in favour (148 to 45 with no abstentions).  The House of Laity voted in favour but by 64% not the required 66% (132 to 74 with no abstentions).

I spent much of the day attempting to speak in favour, rising to my feet every three minutes or so, but not being called.  Once the speech limit was cut to one minute, I gave up.  The speech was going to be about the biblical basis for the Measure.  I wasn’t sure from the debate whether any of the Synod members changed their minds.  The debate was well chaired – it was just that so many people wanted to speak.

My Statement

My statement to the Diocese and the media is below:

I am deeply saddened that the Measure to
enable women to become bishops was not passed by the General Synod today by a
very narrow margin in the House of Laity.
I give heartfelt thanks to God this evening
for the ministries of the women who are priests and deacons in the Diocese of
Sheffield.  I deeply value and cherish
their ministries as do the parishes where they serve.
I want to affirm my Christian understanding
of the equality of women and men before God, in society and the life of the
I want to affirm my commitment to seeing
women become bishops in the Church of England as soon as is humanly
possible.  This is the view of the
overwhelming majority of bishops in the Church of England.
I will be making a longer statement as the
Diocese of Sheffield gathers for our own Synod this coming Saturday.  The Bishop of Doncaster and I will be meeting
with the women clergy of the Diocese next week to consider ways forward.

I’m holding in my thoughts and prayers this evening not only the women priests and deacons from the Diocese of Sheffield but the scores of women ordinands who passed through Cranmer Hall in my time as Warden and who had looked forward to this day (several of whom are now on Synod); all the women who have been ordained as pioneers and the many, many ordained women I’ve worked with through the years who are doing such brilliant work.  I hope that every congregation with a woman vicar or curate will find some way to show their love and appreciation in the next few days.

I know, of course, that lots of male clergy and many, many lay people will also be deeply saddened tonight as will the people who worked so hard on the Measure for so long.

For those who opposed the Measure, I can’t see that many gains at the moment.  I think there is likely to be a reaction against the decision today in the Church of England as a whole which will make it more not less difficult to secure robust provision in the future.  The Church of England intends to make it possible for women to become bishops so the uncertainties remain for traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals (and if anything those uncertainties are amplified).

What next?

Hard to say exactly.  I think there will be lots of frustration and sadness expressed over the coming weeks and months and lots of questions to God and to the Church.  I would imagine that in time that this will crystallise into a determination across the Church to see this business through sooner rather than later, to keep on listening to those who see things differently, to go on loving and forgiving and getting on with the business of the kingdom and to find new ways forward.  I would imagine that there will be a more robust theological critique of the traditional catholic and the conservative evangelical positions on this issue.  I don’t think for a moment that we will be distracted from our God-given priorities of serving the common good, making disciples and re-imagining ministry for mission.

But basically for all of us it will be business as usual tomorrow.  The Synod debates the Living Wage.  On Friday I’ll be attending the final meeting of the Sheffield Fairness Commission and then the rededication of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sheffield.  We have our Diocesan Synod on Saturday (largely about budgets) and on Sunday I’m looking forward to being in the parish of Warmsworth and in Chapeltown for confirmations.

The call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength remains as does the call to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Thanks be to God for all his goodness, for faith, hope and love among his people, for the Church and for the Church of England and for inestimable, wonderful treasure which is the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.

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11 years ago

I know that today there will be female and male priests across the C of E saddened by yesterdays General Synod vote, by a very narrow margin, not to allow women priests to become bishops. Surely if women are priests they ought then, naturally to progress to the episcopate. It sounds hypocritical doesnt it and makes us feel uneasy. But I cant help feeling that we have forgotten God in all this argument. Yes, each person with a viewpoint has prayed hard, but have we listened for God's real answer? We always assume to know the will of the Lord.… Read more »