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Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England

2014-JUL to 2015-JAN: More reactions to the
Synod vote. Final steps leading to the
consecration of the first female bishop.

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This is a continuation from the previous essay

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2014-JUL-14: Still more reactions to the Synod vote:

  • The Very Reverend June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury, described the vote as an historic event:

    "I don't think you can overstate the fact that the Church of England allowing women to take up the role of bishop is going to change the Church. I think it's going to change our society as well because it's one more step in accepting that women are really and truly equal in spiritual authority, as well as in leadership in society."

  • The Reverend Lindsay Southern, from the parish of Catterick with Tunstall, North Yorkshire, said:

    "It's been a really long journey but we were so pleased with the graciousness of the Synod debate."

  • Susie Leafe, is a lay member of the Synod and also director of the advocacy group Reform that has lead opposition to gender equality in the Church. She said that she was:

    "... very disappointed [by the vote] There is still at least a quarter of the Church for whom this package does not provide for their theological convictions." 1

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2014-JUL-14: The next steps:

Because the Church of England is the state church, changes of this type had to be approved by:

  • The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament,

  • The House of Commons, and

  • The House of Lords.

  • Finally it had to be given Royal Assent by the Queen before it can be returned to the Synod to be formally enacted. 2

There was speculation that the first woman bishop(s) might be appointed before the end of 2014. However. early 2015 was seen as more probable. The Church of England would then join other Provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion who have already allowed women to be consecrated as bishops: These provinces currently include: Australia, Canada, Cuba, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Swaziland, and the United States. There are currently a total of about 30 women bishops in the Communion. 3

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2014-OCT-23: The government and the Queen formally approve of female bishops:

Since the Church of England is, literally, the official church of the country, it was necessary to pass a bill through Parliament authorizing the end to sexual discrimination in the Church. A bill was successfully approved by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. It was given Royal Assent by the Queen on 2014-OCT-23. The matter was then returned to the Church of England Synod for a final vote.

William Fittall, the general secretary of the General Synod, said:

"When you have half the human race not eligible even for consideration, at the point at which they do become eligible there are manifestly people who might well have been considered in the past.

So there is a whole system and that does include women in relation to archdeacons and deans but up to now bishops haven't been able to say 'This particular female priest would be very suitable as a bishop'.

So I would be surprised, personally, if we didn't have the first announcement in 2015." 4

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2014-NOV-17: Church of England Synod gives final approval to ending gender discrimination:

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, chaired the meeting of the Church of England General Synod. On the first day of the two-day meeting, he called for the Synod delegates to vote by a show of hands. The measure easily passed.

This amended Church Canon 33 so that it now reads:

"A man or woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop." 5

Twenty-two years had passed since the Synod decided that women could be ordained as priests. That change had caused hundreds of priests to leave the Church and join the Roman Catholic Church. More priests will probably leave as a result of this change.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said:

"Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together. We will also continue to seek the flourishing of the church of those who disagree."

The first female dean of Norwich, the Very Reverend Jane Hedges had not expected that this step would come before her retirement. She noted that two decades previously:

"People were surprised at how quickly women were accepted as priests.

But she predicted that the acceptance of female bishops:

"... will be a slow process. ... The fact it is on its way is very exciting and good news for the Church and our mission to the world."

Hilary Cotton, is a lay member of the Synod and the chairwoman of Women and the Church -- a group advocating gender equality. She hopes that there will be eventually 40 female bishops in the Church of England, a sufficient number:

"... to make a difference. ... It is not just about having women wearing purple, it is about changing the culture of the Church to be more equal." 5

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2014-DEC-17: Rev. Libby Lane is selected to be the new Bishop of Stockport in Greater Manchester:

Rev. Lane. 49, will be consecrated as the first female bishop. She will lead the diocese of Stockport in Greater Manchester, England.

She said:

This is unexpected and very exciting. ... On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God.

I stand in a long line of women and men whose self giving service has changed the world for good. So today I pray will not be simply about one woman called up a new ministry in the church but much more than that: an opportunity to acknowledge all that has gone before and to look ahead to what is still to be done." 6

John Bingham, religious affairs editor for The Telegraph, wrote:

"The Established Church is now the last great institution of public life in Britain to open its upper reaches to people of both sexes."

Webmaster's comment: (bias alert):

Ths is a major advance in gender equality for Enland, particularly because the Church of England is the state church. However, this still leaves the Roman Catholic Church and many Christian fundamentalist and other evangelical faith groups as well as other religions who still discriminate against women achieving positions of authority.

Consecration of Rev. Libby Lane   

Because of the importance of the Church of England, 26 of the members of the House of Lords are reserved for bishops. A bill has been introduced into Parliament to give future preference to female bishops to fill these seats. 6

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Libby Lane becomes the first female Church of England priest to be consecrated as bishop:

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, led the service at York Minister. He wrote in the Yorkshire Post that:

"It is high time we had women bishops. I have been praying and working for this day. In a few years' time when more and more women will be bishops, I predict we shall be wondering how we ever managed without them."

However, not everyone agrees. At the point in the service where the Archbishop of York asked the congregation of over 1,000 members whether it was their will that Rev. Lane should be consecrated as a bishop, Rev Paul Williamson, a priest at a church in Hanworth, Middlesex, shouted:

"No. Not in my name. [It is] not in the Bible. With respect, Your Grace, I ask to speak on this absolute impediment, please.”

Dr. Sentamu ignored the request. Instead, he responded with a prepared statement, and then asked the congregation the same question a second time. This time, were no dissenters, and the ritual continued.

A spokesperson for the Church of England later remarked that:

"He's got the right to protest but the contrast was between a lone voice protesting and a sea of voices affirming." 7

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Church of England General Synod backs women bishops," BBC News, 2014-JUL-14 at: http://www.bbc.com/news/
  2. Church of England to have women bishops,"The Church of England media centre, 2014-JUL-14, at: https://www.churchofengland.org/
  3. Louise Stewart, "Church of England Votes to Allow Women Bishops," Newsweek, 2014-JUL-15, at: http://www.newsweek.com/
  4. "First female Church of England bishop 'expected next year'," BBC News, 2014-OCT-24, at: http://www.bbc.com/
  5. "Church of England formally approves plans for women bishops," BBC News, 2014-NOV-17, at: http://www.bbc.com/
  6. John Bingham, "First woman bishop: parish priest Libby Lane is surprise choice," The Telegraph, 2014-DEC-17, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  7. "Libby Lane: First female Church of England bishop consecrated," BBC, 2015-JAN-26, at: http://www.bbc.com/
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Copyright 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2015-JAN-31

Latest update: 2015-JAN-31.
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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