Women Priests and Bishops in the Church of England

posted May 2, 2010, 11:47 PM by Professor Katz   [ updated Apr 27, 2014, 12:56 AM ]
Here too, it was the North Americans who led the way and put pressure on the Mother Church.  In 1975, the Anglican Church of Canada approved the ordaining of women as priests, and began actually ordaining women the following year.  The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States followed suit in 1976, voting by a slim majority to legalize the ordination of women.
 
The English response was to try to appease Anglican women by eliminating the separate status of 'deaconess', and to begin ordaining women as deacons (a sort of intermediate status between layperson and priest)....and even then, only in 1987.
 
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Once the Americans ordained a woman as (suffragan) bishop in 1988, it was clear that more needed to be done.  The Vatican, however, in 1989 came out very firmly against women priests, noting that since a priest represents Jesus Christ, the priest must be a man.  Many women argued that Jesus Christ was also a carpenter (well, maybe not), so must priests take up carpentry as well?  More significantly, there were many Anglicans who dreamed of reuniting with Rome one day and thereby undoing much of the English Reformation, and now that the Vatican had made its position clear, women priests would bury that idea once and for all.
 
In November 1992, the General Synod of the Anglican Church debated the issue of women priests, in a very dramatic meeting that was widely covered in the press.  By a majority of over two-thirds in each of the Synod's three houses, they gave final approval to the draft legislation on the ordination of women to the priesthood.
 
This legislation went forward to Parliament, and in February 1994, the Church of England canons on the ordination of women were promulgated.  Finally, on 12 March 1994, the first women were ordained to the priesthood in England.

So what about women bishops?  On 7 July 2008, the General Synod of the the Church of England voted to consecrate women bishops, still discussing how to make provision for those who oppose the measure.  Two years later, on 12 July 2010, the measure was finally approved, giving women bishops unconditional authority in their dioceses...but an amendment by the House of Bishops, offering further concessions to opponents, meant that many supporters of the measure would have been forced to reject it, so the entire issue was put off yet again.

Moving ahead at a snail's pace, on 20 November 2012 the proposal was brought again before the General Synod, but it failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority in the House of Laity after being passed by the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, despite the support of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.  Instead, on 7 February 2013, the House of Bishops decided that eight senior women clergy (elected regionally) would participate in all meetings of the House of Bishops until some time in the future when b'ezrat haShem there would be six actual female bishops sitting in their own right.  A further package of measure towards this end was approved by the General Synod on 20 November 2013, supported by PM David Cameron in the House of Commons.

Bottom line: no female bishops in the Church of England quite yet....but they're working on it...
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