(Photo: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly)
The Church of England is closer to moving away from its traditional position of electing only men as bishops after an overwhelming majority voted in favor of female bishops at the General Synod in London on Wednesday.
"These measures look to the day when the Church of England as an ecclesial entity will have made a clear decision to open all orders of ministry to women and men without distinction, whereby all those so ordained are true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy," said the Right Reverend James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester.
"If anyone had told me that one year on from last November we would be where we are, I would have said: 'That's impossible,'" added Christina Rees, a member of the archbishops' council, according to The Guardian. "But by the grace of God it has been possible and here we are. And I believe that what we are considering now is better than what we had last year and I also believe that we are better as a synod."
The vote in favor of a plan to allow female bishops by 2014 was 378-8, with 25 abstentions. Last November, the vote in favor of a change in the law fell just short of the required majority, which caused a lot of internal debate and turmoil within the Anglican community. While the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has backed the change as an important step forward for the Church of England, traditionalists have insisted that Jesus' disciples were all men, and so bishops should always be men as well.
Still, some of those who voted against the change last year switched their vote this time around, noting that it would be best for the unity of the Anglican Communion.
"In the spirit of agreement we have reached, in the spirit of wanting to achieve agreement I will vote for it," said the Rev. Rod Thomas, chair of the conservative evangelical group Reform. "And even if at the end of the day I am unable to join the majority at synod – who I confidently expect to approve this by the required majorities – even if I am not able to join you, I shall rejoice in the measure of agreement that we have been able to reach."
Reform's director, Susie Leafe, admitted that she wishes she could join in with the sentiment, but couldn't bring herself to do it.
"But I can't … We claim that this package is designed to enable all to flourish yet I and my church can only flourish once we've denied our theological convictions and accepted a woman as our chief pastor," Leafe said.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu warned against 'opening champagne bottles' as there is more work that needs to be done to the bring the Church of England together.
"As Francis Drake said: 'There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.' And until we all get together we need still to stick together and stay in the same place," Sentamu said.
Welby has insisted that allowing women to become bishops will show that the church is adapting an "inclusive approach."
"The approach before us is a radical way forward," Welby said at a previous Synod debate.
"It provides the possibility of building trust, it gives us space for imagination, and it affirms an inclusive approach that is consistent with our previous resolutions – as I have said, the commitment to ordaining women as bishops on exactly the same basis as men, and the flourishing together of all parts of the church."
The next stage for the legislation is a revision at the Synod's meeting in February, though the normal Revision Committee process has been dispensed, which makes a final vote on the issue possible for later in 2014.