Many in the Church of England and beyond have been celebrating the vote by the three houses of the General Synod, its legislative body, to allow women to become bishops.
More than 20 years after the General Synod gave its blessing to women priests, the move has been praised as a successful response to a changing world.
But even those who stand to benefit directly are conscious that a significant minority feel otherwise.
“It’s very hard for me to understand why some people find it so difficult, I understand that they do and I know that means so much to them, so I know that for some of the people that voted in there today, they have had to move themselves quite a long way,” said the Reverend Emma Percy, Chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Church’s spiritual leader, said he was “delighted” with the decision. The debate, he argued, had been based on theology not culture.
After a similar move two years ago was blocked by traditionalists, this time there was relief at the outcome.
“To hear that result, we just couldn’t believe it, we’ve just been waiting for so long and each vote has been almost there, just there, almost there, just there. And we’ve done it, and it’s happened, and Synod has actually said yes!” said Hilary Cotton, chair of Women and the Church (WATCH), which has campaigned for women bishops.
The Church’s response to the vote’s failure in 2012 was to set up a committee to find common ground and its new proposals won widespread acceptance in the Synod in November last year.
The plan will create an independent official who could intervene when traditionalist parishes complain about a bishop’s authority, as well as guidelines for parishes whose congregations reject women’s ministry.
The issue over women bishops has caused much internal division.
It has pitted reformers, keen to project a more modern image of the Church as it struggles with falling congregations in many increasingly secular countries, against a conservative minority which says the change contradicts the Bible.
Women serve as bishops in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand but Anglican churches in many developing countries do not ordain them as priests.
Wider reaction to Monday’s Synod vote in the developing world and among traditionalists is still awaited. One called it “the end of the church as we know it”.
Critics say ordaining women bishops would break with the tradition of a male-only clergy dating back to the Twelve Apostles, while supporters argue it is a matter of equality.
“While we are deeply concerned about the consequences for the wider unity of the whole Church, we remain committed to working together with all in the Church of England to further the mission of the Church to the nation,” said Simon Killwick, chairman of the Synod’s Catholic Group, which opposed the move.
A conciliatory tone was also struck by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Acknowledging that the campaign had been marked by “gentleness and grace” despite the differences of opinion, Justin Welby said it was important for the church to “hold people together”.
Welby has said the first female bishop could be named early next year.
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