Region could be first in line for woman bishop

YES VOTE: The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby (centre) arrives for the General Synod of Church of England meeting at The University of York. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

The Bishop of Durham, The Rt Revd Paul Butler. Picture Keith Blundy

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu: Picture Keith Blundy

First published in News

ONE of the first women bishops in the Church of England could be appointed in the North-East.

Members of the Church’s governing body yesterday voted in favour of the legislation in an historic vote at York University - ending decades of bitterness.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, staked his authority on the approval and even drafted in mediation and conflict experts to resolve differences.

Speaking in the debate, the former Bishop of Durham, assured traditionalists that Church of England bishops were committed to meeting their needs should the vote be passed.

Speculation is mounting that a woman may now replace the Right Reverend Martin Wharton who recently announced his retirement as Bishop of Newcastle this autumn.

The first women bishops could be appointed by the end of the year after the legislation received the necessary two thirds majority in all three Houses of the General Synod with 37 bishops voting in favour with two against and one abstention, 162 clergy in favour, 25 against and four abstentions.

In the crucial lay votes there were 152 votes in favour,45 against and five abstentions.

Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, who is vicar of Belmont and Pittington and a prominent campaigner for women bishops, described it as a “great day”.

She said there had been a “change of atmosphere” since the last vote in November 2012 collapsed after it was derailed by six lay member votes.

“The whole process has brought people together,” she said. “People haven’t been threatening to resign which is a major change.

“We have always said God loves everybody and doesn’t have any favourites and finally we can reflect that in the structure of the Church.

“With the retirement of the Bishop of Newcastle later this year there’s a chance we could get a woman bishop in the North-East, which would be fantastic.”

She said Archbishop Welby had played a pivotal role, adding: "He has brought a new type of political realism. He has got everyone to come up with a solution they can agree on. It is a huge victory for him.”

The Bishop of Durham, The Rt Revd Paul Butler, said: “ Even those who were opposed to women bishops have said that they will work with this, they want to work with it. We are all committed.”

Reverend Lindsay Southern, from the parish of Catterick with Tunstall, in North Yorkshire, said: “We are ecstatic, we are so pleased, it's been a really long journey.

"To be at this point is really wonderful, I don't think any of us really expected that it really would go through. We're very relieved, very joyful, and I really want to go and hug a bishop."

In spite of an appeal by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, for the result to be heard in silence as is traditional, there was some clapping and shouts of "brill" as the outcome was announced.

Earlier, the General Synod heard from a series of speakers who had previously voted against the legislation but would now support it or abstain.

One Adrian Vincent, a lay member from the Guildford Diocese, said: "I am betraying what I believe. I hope that the promised commitment to mutual flourishing is not a commitment that will run out of steam in a few years."

Two other votes were passed - one requesting Royal Assent and the other repealing the Act of Synod which provides for so-called "flying bishops" to minister to parishes which do not accept the authority of women priests.

The plan now goes to the ecclesiastical committe of Parliament and the House of Commons and the House of Lords for consideration. The General Synod then meets on November 17 to formally declare women can be bishops.

Members of the Synod were seen hugging and cheering as they left the chamber, in celebration of the historic vote.

Prebendary David Houlding, a member of the Catholic Group on the General Synod, who voted against the legislation, said: "I feel it is a step back for ecumenical relations with the Roman Catholic Church and that is serious. It is a massive vote in favour, so we have to work with it."

The Right Reverend Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, said: "I hope what people in this country who have been watching will see is that we are a Church that can do business differently, it doesn't have to be adversarial, it can be intelligent and passionate and we can still find a way of sticking together through it."

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