The women bishops vote was a profoundly emotional experience, and it ended in disaster

Andreas Whittam Smith was among those deliberating

If the long campaign to allow women to become bishops in the Church of England was to be thwarted, today would be the historic day. And so great were the doubts that the necessary two-thirds majority would be secured in the House of Laity, of which I am an appointed member, that I was strongly urged to attend by people who guessed which way I would vote.

I settled into my seat with keen anticipation. I knew that what I was about to witness would be a rearguard action. How skilfully would it be conducted? And how well would the captains of the main force, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his appointed successor, the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, make their case?

Since the break with Rome in the 1530s, the Church of England has been a broad church that could accommodate Protestants and Catholics alike. In today’s debate, the inheritors of those two positions, the conservative evangelicals and the traditional Catholics (not Roman!) joined forces.

The former believe that certain men are called by God to have the formal authority to teach doctrine faithfully as they care for their congregations. This is not to say that they think women lack the understanding or ability to teach doctrine, it is just not the role God has designated for them. The Catholic wing cares much more about the role of bishops than the evangelicals, but seeing themselves as members of the “universal church” they don’t believe that the Church of England can make this change on its own. They would want to move with the Roman and Orthodox Churches on this issue.

On the whole, though, the rearguard action was not conducted by rehearsing these arguments again. The opening speaker for the objectors said they could “live” with women bishops providing there were sufficient safeguards. What they want is legal provision whereby they could be sure that they would not be obliged to receive, even indirectly, the ministrations of women bishops.

Whether such an arrangement would still be a broad church or two distinct churches sharing the same name and buildings is a moot point. What the opponents of women bishops demanded was not, however, on offer. There would be arrangements, a code of practice as yet unspecified and bags of goodwill, but no secure haven. Thus descriptions by supporters of what would result from rejection left the opponents relatively unmoved.

Rejection, the Bishop of Manchester told the Synod, would be a shock to many people and a blow to morale, particularly of women priests. It would deter able women from offering themselves for ordination. Women would feel unwelcome. Another speaker said cuttingly that rejection would mean that the Church had lower moral standards than the rest of the country. To all of which the objectors patiently and repetitiously replied that time should be taken to get the safeguards right.

The Bishop of Durham, however, made a very good speech in favour. He said that the ministry of women had contributed enormously to the life of the Church. Moreover the Church must show that it can still manage diversity of views by measures, rules, codes of practice and dispute resolution procedures. And he gave a personal commitment that as Archbishop he would faithfully carry out all that had been promised. And as the debate went on, other Church leaders gave the same undertaking.

At the same time, the atmosphere within the chamber changed. No longer was a military analogy appropriate. Gradually the interventions by synod members became more moving, more heartfelt, more a series of sermons than speeches. The vote, when it came, would be a profoundly emotional experience for many.

At 6.10pm, after more than 100 speeches, almost half by women, we were asked to vote. I voted in favour. But the two-thirds majority was not attained. The motion was lost. Disaster.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Reconciliation Analyst

£200 - £250 per day: Orgtel: Reconciliation Analyst Gloucestershire

Soutions Architect TOGAF - Reading

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Excellent Corporate Benefits: Progressive Recruitm...

CAD Design Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: CAD Design Do you have a...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on