The measure needs the support of two-thirds of the clergy, laity, and bishops to pass when the final decision is made in November. If yesterday's figures hold up, they would be enough to stop the legislative process which has been under way for five years.
The Rev Cathy Milford, Moderator of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, said after the vote: 'It is only a question of a short delay if it doesn't go through in the autumn. It's a world-wide movement.'
The unexpectedly large vote against women was ascribed by most observers to the arrival in the House of Laity - after elections in 1990 - of a strong evangelical group. Its members cannot accept women in positions of authority in the Church because they believe St Paul told them not to when he said that 'the man shall be head of the woman'.
Gerald Burrows, a lecturer from Blackburn, said: 'The Holy Scriptures of God forbid a woman to take up the public teaching office of a presbyter.'
This argument seems incredible to supporters of women's ordination: Mrs Christina Rees asked after the debate: 'What is it saying about a lot of people in the world today in their marriages and in their work if they really believe that women should not have authority over men? The Christian faith preaches equality, love, and mutual submission. And what are we getting? This remnant]'
Some evangelical voices were raised against the headship argument. Philip Lovegrove said he had 'never heard such nonsense'. 'My wife's a deacon, and the customers - if they came from Essex - would say she done good. If male leadership has produced this bankrupt, bombed-out and rather pretentious sect pretending to be a national Church, let's give the women a chance. They couldn't do any worse.'
Hugh Craig, of Oxford, argued that the proposed legislation would be badly implemented as well as misconceived. It would be grossly unfair to opponents of women priests who stayed in the Church since no one would be made a bishop in future who refused to ordain women. Clergy who left would get compensation, but those who stayed would have no influence.
The Houses of Clergy and Bishops, meeting separately as the Convocations of York and Canterbury, approved the legislation for a final vote by majorities of 69 per cent to 31 per cent.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has expressed his distress at the growing unrest in South Africa to the Government and the UN Secretary-General, he told the Synod yesterday.
The move followed the visit by the Bishop of Selby, the Rt Rev Humphrey Taylor, to the funerals of victims of the Boipatong massacre - an attendance requested by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town.
Dr Carey said Bishop Taylor had returned 'so anguished' and reported that trust in the security forces 'has broken down completely'.
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