Lifestyle & Belief

Church of England decides women can't be bishops


The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is applauded after speaking at Assembly Hall of Church House, during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England in London. (Pool photo by Yui Mok/Reuters.)

Women can serve as priests in the Church of England, but they can’t be bishops.

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A vote in London Tuesday re-affirmed that. The church’s governing body, known as the General Synod, narrowly blocked a measure that would allow the consecration of female bishops.

It was a marathon day of speeches: short, long, heartfelt and exasperated.

“We’re all sick of this aren’t we?” asked Philip North, an Anglican priest and a member of the General Synod.

Indeed, anyone watching the proceedings in London witnessed, to quote Lincoln, a house divided.

The measure being debated was a compromise: it would have allowed women to serve as bishops.

But if local churches felt for theological reasons unable to accept that bishop’s authority, they would have had the right to place themselves under the care of a male bishop instead. The exact nature of that accommodation was not clear.


‘More and more and more’

On British radio Tuesday morning, in advance of the vote, Susie Leafe, a lay member of the General Synod, took issue with the ‘measure’ under consideration.

“It’s unclear as to what it really means,” she said. “It’s reliant on a code of practice that hasn’t been written yet. So I know the media think that today that’s the end of the story, but actually I’m afraid it’s going to mean more and more and more discussions.

“We’d like to see us get back round the table and come up with a really clear measure where we can actually say we’re going to go forward together,” she said.

But, Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a Jamaica-born chaplain to the Queen, told the same broadcast audience that this was the best proposal that could be hoped.

“We’re never going to have a clear measure: the reason why the measure’s so unclear at the moment is because the Church is bending over backwards,” she said. “People are behaving like children. They are threatening, ‘we will pick up our marbles and we’ll go if you don’t do what we say.’ We have struggled within the church for years and years and years and we have not said we’re going to go. So please, let’s stop behaving in this childish manner.”


‘Half the world’

The Church of England is part of the global Anglican communion and, as the home church of the Archbishop of Canterbury — who leads all the world’s Anglicans — its decision was watched around the world.

That included here in the United States where Anglican women bishops already serve in the Episcopal Church.

For MayLin Biggadike, a priest associate at St. Elizabeth church in Ridgewood, N.J., the heart of the debate went beyond any secular concern about equality.

“For people of faith it’s a much deeper, profound question,” she said. “Can we truly look at half the world, or half the church and face God and say, no, women were not created in your image? What (is it) truly we are saying to God when we take a stand against women?”

Tuesday's vote didn’t settle anything: it merely prolonged the agony for the Church of England.

But elsewhere, different decisions are being made.


A new bishop in Swaziland

On Monday, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa elected the first woman bishop on that continent, to serve as the Bishop of Swaziland.

Her name is Ellinah Wamukoya and this was her message to her fellow Anglicans in London:

“I would like to say to the Church of England today that they should not look to the gender of people,” she said. “Let them look to the qualities that the people of God are bringing. Because you know in God’s eyes we are all the same. And the Church of England should not be afraid of their womenfolk, because they’re equally good as the menfolk.”

Bishop-elect Wamukoya joins 22 other female bishops in the Anglican communion: three in Australia and New Zealand; five in Canada; one in Cuba; and thirteen in the United States.

But none for now in Britain.