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Equal opportunity in the Church of England

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Equal opportunity in the Church of EnglandTwenty years after voting to ordain women, the Church of England votes on the future of female bishops.

Guest post by Reverend Biddi Kings.

Last Sunday, 11 November, was the twentieth anniversary of the vote in Synod, the ruling council of the Church of England, which allowed women to become fully ordained as priests.

This enabled women to fulfil all the same roles within church ministry as men – with the exception of the most senior role, that of bishop.

On 12 November, the Church of England revealed that the number of women ordained in the church now exceeds 30 per cent.

Last year, of the total number of priests ordained, 244 were women and 234 men, while the number of women training for priesthood has steadily risen to more than 50 per cent.

And most ordained women become un-paid Non-Stipendiary Ministers whereas most ordained men are appointed to stipendiary, paid posts.

In the Church of England this difference is not only economic but managerial.

It is stipendiary priests who manage churches at the Parish level, the basic level of the career structure within the Church of England.

According to research by Manchester University, bishops and their diocese continue to fail to appoint an equivalent number of women and men to more senior posts, such as Diocesan Officer, Archdeacon or Dean of Cathedral.

This may be due both to potential female candidates lacking appropriate stipendiary experience and to the ever present reluctance of the Church of England to pursue an active equal opportunity programme in its training and appointments.

Reverend Rosemary Lain-Priestley, secretary to the National Association of Diocesan Advisers in Women’s Ministry, believes that it is unlikely that women priests will be taken seriously until women can become bishops.

Since 2000, the Church of England has been through a tortuous process in which the wording of the proposition allowing women to become bishops has been watered down in order to accommodate those clergy and churches that continue to object to women in ministry.

And in May 2012 women clergy were horrified by two proposed amendments to the measure to open the way for the appointment of women bishops.

The wording implied that where parishes refused to accept the authority of a female bishop, an independent male bishop with equivalent authority would be appointed alongside them.

This would fundamentally undermine the equality of women in comparison to their male counterparts.

Such provision would also reinforce and validate the views of that minority in the Church of England who believe that women should exercise “different, complementary, roles in the church”, not including ordination as priests and definitely not to include their appointment as bishops.

It soon became apparent that, due to these amendments, there was a real possibility that a large number of supporters of women bishops would abstain from voting for the measure, throwing the Church of England back into turmoil and once again, delaying any solution to this divisive issue.

Voting on the measure was postponed so that the wording might be reconsidered.

The deciding vote is to take place at General Synod on 20 November 2012.

Supporters of women bishops have made significant compromises in order that the vote might succeed. It is clear that this final adjustment may be just sufficient to allow supporters of women bishops to vote for the measure.

According to Women and the Church (WATCH):

“Despite our concerns that this Measure does not do enough to eradicate discrimination from the Church, WATCH is praying that Synod will vote ‘yes’ on 20th November.

This is far from the perfect Measure for women, but it is what has been negotiated after years of consultation amongst those of all perspectives.

A ‘yes’ will enable women bishops to be appointed whilst allowing that those who disagree to have a respected place within the Church of England.”

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