Church of England rejects women bishops
LONDON, United Kingdom - The Church of England was in turmoil Tuesday, November 20, after narrowly voting against the ordination of women bishops in a major setback for efforts to modernize the mother church of millions of Anglicans worldwide.
In its biggest crossroads moment since backing the introduction of women priests 20 years ago, just enough lay members of England's state church went against their bishops' wishes and voted against the measure.
Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, said the church was now at risk of becoming a "national embarrassment" and that the public would struggle to understand the result.
The legislation needed a two-thirds majority among each of the three houses in the General Synod, the church's governing body.
But though the bishops and the clergy comfortably cleared the threshold, the legislation fell short by just six voters among the laity.
The bishops voted 44 in favor and three against, while two abstained (89.8 percent). The clergy voted 148 in favor, 45 against, with no abstentions (76.7 percent).
However, the ordinary members voted 132 in favor and 74 against with no abstentions (64.1 percent) -- six votes shy of the threshold.
The Church of England will now not be able to bring the measure back on the agenda until a new General Synod comes in 2015.
That said, the "Group of Six" -- a body which includes the Church's two archbishops -- could give permission to bring it back on the table in February if they so decide.
Church of England bishops were to host an emergency session on Wednesday morning to consider the consequences of the vote.
"I'm hugely disappointed," Cottrell told reporters.
"This is going to be very hard for people in the wider church and the wider world to understand.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen next," he added.
"We need to do a lot of work to persuade the lay people of Synod that there is a way forward on this together.
"The irony of the decision we've just taken is that I believe it is the mind of the church that we have women bishops.
"There's a danger that the national church becomes a bit of a national embarrassment over this."
The Church of England -- the mother church of the 85-million-strong worldwide Anglican communion -- backed the introduction of women priests 20 years ago.
They now make up one-third of the Church of England's clergy.
The ordination of women as bishops had the backing of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his successor Justin Welby, who takes over the position in March.
The electronic vote was held following seven hours of debate and passionate speeches on the floor at Church House, by Westminster Abbey in central London.
Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, had concluded the debate before the vote by saying: "If you wait for the perfect moment, if you wait for the perfect piece of legislation, then you will be waiting forever.
"Now, under God, I believe, is the moment for decision and so I urge this Synod in all its three houses to give tonight the... measure its final approval."
Then, after two tense minutes of silent prayer and reflection, the division bell sounded.
The result was heard in silence.
Williams, who as Archbishop of Canterbury is the church's spiritual leader, had urged the synod to vote in favor of women bishops.
"I am rather clearer that a no vote would not do anything positive for our mission in this country," the theologian said.
"I do believe that it is time to turn a page and discover what we can actually do with this."
Williams steps down in December after 10 years in the role.
His replacement, Welby, who is currently the Bishop of Durham, had also urged the Synod to accept the proposals.
"It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure. But also the Church of England needs to show how we can develop the mission of the Church in a way that demonstrates that we can manage diversity of view without division -- diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity," he said.
Under the proposals before the General Synod, a woman bishop would have delegated duties to a stand-in male bishop if a parish rejected her authority.
The Church of England, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534, claims that more than 40 percent of people in England regard themselves as members.
The wider Anglican communion's first woman bishop was appointed in the United States in 1989 and there are now 37 Anglican bishops worldwide, in countries including Australia, Canada, Cuba, New Zealand and Swaziland. - Robin Millard, Agence France-Presse