'Stunned' bishops pledge themselves to allowing female bishops in future
The defeat of legislation introducing the first women bishops will be viewed by many as "a tragedy", the Bishop of Exeter has said.
The General Synod narrowly failed to give final approval to the legislation, plunging the Church of England into crisis and recrimination. It was carried in the houses of bishops and clergy in the General Synod, but failed by six votes to gain the necessary two-thirds majority amongst lay members.
The vote was billed as the biggest in the 20 years since the General Synod backed the introduction of female priests in 1992 and comes after 12 years of negotiations within the Church of England.
Only two dioceses out of 44 in the Church of England failed to approve the legislation. It was supported by both the diocese of Exeter and Truro.
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The Right Reverend Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter, said: "Many, right across the Church of England will be feeling stunned. The mood among all Synod members is subdued.
"The rejection of the measure to enable women to be ordained as bishops will be a cause of disappointment, anxiety and even anger among those who have campaigned hard for this development, and believe it to be of crucial importance for the effective ministry of the church in the service of the Gospel.
"For others the outcome of the vote will be welcome, although even many of them would have wished for a different outcome with a different measure. Many on both sides of the argument will look with concern and alarm at the prospect of this subject continuing to consume much time, energy and media attention for many years to come."
The bishop committed himself to "working hard" to produce new legislation which would "assure" those who believed they were "not able to receive the episcopal ministry of women".
He also committed himself to working with those who had hoped "to be celebrating" a decision support women bishops.
"Many will be feeling grief and despair," he said. "Rightly they will expect a new measure that really will secure women bishops in the church as soon as possible. I commit myself to working with them to that end."
He added: "In the Diocese of Exeter we have many gifted and experienced women who have been ordained to the priesthood.
"For many ordinary Christians the fact that the way is still not yet open for some of them to test and explore a vocation to the office and work of a bishop, will be experienced as a tragedy and a source of deep frustration.
"In these circumstances I remain committed to the advancement of women and their gifts as fully as possible within the position in which the church now finds itself."
The Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Tim Thornton, expressed his disappointment at the outcome of the vote and said that he remained strongly in favour of women being appointed as bishops.
And he echoed the view of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that the Church of England was in danger of losing its credibility and "had a lot of explaining to do".
Divisions in the General Synod were reflected in the Westcountry. The Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas, vicar of St Matthews in Elburton, Plymouth, and chairman of the conservative evangelical grouping Reform, which recommended a no vote, said the church had "avoided making a big mistake which would have led to real division".
He added: "The synod's decision shows respect for the issues of conscience involved. It has avoided putting significant minorities who, as faithful Anglicans, seek to follow the Bible's teaching, into an impossible position.
"We now have a real opportunity to build on the church's solid biblical foundations, reflecting together on the right way forward."
He went on: "We stand ready for any discussions that our future archbishop may wish to initiate and happily commit ourselves to approaching these positively.
"Our hearts go out to those who will now be disappointed and confused about the difficult position in which the Church of England now finds itself."