An Anglican milestone on women’s role in church

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:01

Twenty years after agreeing to the ordination of women as priests, the Church of England has found a compromise on the ordination of women as bishops, following slowly in the footsteps of the Church of Ireland. For many, the decision is long overdue, some will continue to protest that this is a step too far, and others believe too many compromises have been made to reach this milestone.

The vote at the General Synod in York on Monday is a personal triumph for Archbishop Justin Welby, who has managed to unloose the Gordian knot created by the debate about women in the episcopate. Archbishop Welby’s success is due in part to careful, behind-the-scenes negotiations on his behalf by David Porter, an evangelical from Northern Ireland with experience in peacekeeping and problem-solving. However, the principal concessions were made not by the conservative evangelicals but by Anglo-Catholics who now say they are willing to live with difference.

Yet there is a fear that what is a temporary compromise may become permanent legislation. The extremists among conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have the right to continue to refuse to accept the ministry of future women bishops, with the potential for creating a two-tier ministry with male bishops whose ministry must be accepted and female bishops whose ministry may be compromised or refused.

It may be next year before a woman becomes a bishop. But because the process has been slow and tedious, at least 20 women priests have already reached high senior clerical office in the Church of England. If the Church of England’s first woman bishop has the same calibre and promise as the first woman bishop in the Church of Ireland, Bishop Pat Storey of Meath and Kildare, then it will be truly blessed. Meanwhile, the Church of England and the other member churches of the Anglican Communion face a more difficult task when it comes to agreeing to live with differences of opinion on sexuality and same-sex marriage.