A year is clearly a long time in church politics. Following last November’s disastrous vote in which the General Synod failed to achieve the required majorities to ordain women as bishops, the Synod met again this last week to have another go.
Clearly, the outcome of Wednesday’s first vote in the legislative process (378-8, 25 abstentions) indicates that the ground has shifted. For those of us in the chamber last week, however, what was most noticeable was a change in mood. Perhaps, as many observed, the sheer pain of last November’s self-inflicted wounds had chastened many people. On all sides of the arguments, people wanted to do things differently.
This significant change in mood and approach has been achieved by a careful process of listening and dialogue. Instead of the legislation being drafted by supporters alone, this time opponents and supporters have met together in facilitated conversations with trained and experienced mediators. The resulting principles honour both the need to have women as bishops on the same terms as men, while allowing those who cannot accept this development to feel that their principles and their long-term future within the Church of England can be guaranteed.
Perhaps one of the key indicators of the work of the Holy Spirit in this process has been the way in which supporters of women bishops, like me, have come to understand that what is now on offer is rather better for women than what was on offer in 2012. At the same time, because they feel they have been heard, opponents also believe that the current proposals are also fairer and far more acceptable to them as well.
The new proposals offer much simpler legislation (one side of A4), some simple amendments to the Canons of the Church of England and a requirement for the House of Bishops to make a Declaration (passed by significant majorities of the Synod) outlining the way in which obligations and expectations regarding the conduct of bishops, parishes and other specific parties. Crucially, there would also be access to mandatory disputes resolution procedure, overseen by an independent adjudicator or ombudsman. All this has brought a remarkable consensus about the way ahead.
There is still much to be done, nevertheless and a successful outcome needs to be worked at hard. However, with a following wind and continued partnership, I envisage the revision process to be completed in February, a brief consultation with the Dioceses thereafter, and possibly final approval in July 2014. The way could be paved for our first women bishops in 2015. Not a moment too soon.