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Church of England starts women bishops debate

21 november 2012, 12:08
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The Church of England General Synod at Church House in central London. ©AFP
The Church of England General Synod at Church House in central London. ©AFP
The Church of England's all-or-nothing debate on whether to introduce women bishops got under way Tuesday in its biggest and most contentious decision for two decades, AFP reports.

After a day of deliberation, the 470-member General Synod was to vote on whether to take the dramatic move, 20 years after England's state Church backed the introduction of women priests.

Women now make up one third of the Church's clergy but commentators say the vote, which has split traditionalists and liberals, could nonetheless be tight.

The legislation was postponed from July and a decision must be made Tuesday. If the proposals are rejected, the issue will not be allowed to return to the Church's agenda for several years.

The Church of England is the mother church of the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican communion and the result could have wide-reaching implications for its unity.

The legislation needs a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod -- bishops, clergy and laity.

While it is thought the plans will get through the bishops and the clergy, it is not clear that the laity will vote in favour by a sufficient margin.

The General Synod was taking place at Church House, in the shadow of Westminster Abbey in central London.

Tuesday's proceedings in the circular chamber began with holy communion, presided over by Rowan Williams, who as Archbishop of Canterbury is the church's spiritual leader.

Sitting behind an altar with lit candles, the sound of hymns filled the room as Synod members took the bread and wine.

Williams urged the congregation to speak from the heart.

"What we are asking, of course, is that Christ comes to birth in us and what the world sees when it looks at us is Jesus Christ," he told the Synod.

"By the end of today, whether the world will look at the General Synod of the Church of England and say 'That looks like Jesus Christ' is a large prayer to ask but it is the prayer we have to be asking because there is probably no other prayer worth praying in Synod and the life of any Church, any community."

The debate then began with John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, leading three cheers for Queen Elizabeth II -- supreme governor of the Church of England -- and her husband Prince Philip, who celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary Tuesday.

Christopher Hill, the Bishop of Guildford, told AFP: "I shall be voting in favour.

"We've been ordaining women priests for quite a long time.

"In our culture it is perfectly proper for women as well as men to have that representative role (in the upper echelons of the Church)."

Williams, who steps down as Archbishop of Canterbury in December after 10 years in the role, backs the legislation.

He will be replaced by Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, who also supports the change.

Welby sat on the second row among his fellow bishops as the proceedings began.

The proposals to introduce women bishops have the backing of 42 out of 44 Church of England dioceses.

Under the legislation, a woman bishop would delegate duties to a stand-in male bishop in a parish that objected to her presence.

If approval is given, the legislation will go to parliament before being signed off by Queen Elizabeth, paving the way for the first women bishops in 2014.

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 belonging to the CofE.

Approximately 1.7 million people attend a service at least once a month.

The Anglican communion's first woman bishop was appointed in the United States in 1989 and women bishops have also been chosen in the member Churches of Australia, Canada, Cuba and New Zealand.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa on Saturday ordained the first Anglican woman bishop on the African continent.

The consecration of Ellinah Wamukoya as Bishop of Swaziland took place in the country's economic capital Manzini in front of more than 3,000 worshippers.

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