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Women bishops - what next?

The results of the Church of England General Synod’s vote on Women Bishops made the headlines late last year, as proposals for legislation that would have allowed women to become bishops was narrowly defeated. We’ve received several requests from people wanting to know more about what the vote meant, how Synod works and what this means for the Church now. 

What is the General Synod?
The General Synod is the national assembly of the Church of England. It has powers to pass measures that affect how the Church operates internally and in society.

Who are the members of Synod?
General Synod has 467 members, made up of three 'houses':
- the House of Bishops is made up of all 44 diocesan bishops, plus a number of suffragan bishops
- the House of Clergy - mostly clergy who have been elected by other clergy, along with some other priests who are appointed or chosen
- the House of Laity, who are either elected by lay members of deanery synods or chosen by and from the lay members of religious communities.

Who represents Carlisle Diocese and how did they get there?
In addition to Bishop James, we have four members in the House of Clergy and four members in the House of Laity. The members of the House of Clergy were voted for by other clergy in the diocese, while the members of the House of Laity were voted for by the lay members of the deanery synods.

Find out more about the members of General Synod from Carlisle Diocese 

Why did the Women Bishops vote fail?
Despite what the mainstream media may say, the vote was actually very close, with over 73 per cent of members voting in favour. However, for any vote in Synod to succeed, each house must have a majority of at least two thirds in favour. In the case of this vote, both the House of Bishops and House of Clergy had a majority of at least two thirds in favour. It was in the House of Laity where the vote came unstuck, as it fell short of the two thirds majority by just six votes.

How did our diocesan representatives vote?
Electronic voting results for the Synod vote have been published on the Church of England website. You can see how individuals voted at

Why didn't all our representatives vote the way diocesan synod voted?
The draft legislation on women bishops had already been subject to votes in every diocesan synod in England, with 42 of 44 voting in favour. However, it's important to remember that the members of General Synod are free to vote in whichever way they wish, so can't be held accountable in the same way that a 'rep' could be expected to. Equally, while our diocesan synod was one of the ones that voted in favour, a significant minority of members voted against the legislation.

What will happen about women bishops now?
This doesn’t mean we won’t have women bishops. Several years ago General Synod voted that the barriers to women becoming bishops should be removed. The majority of those who oppose women being ordained as bishops do accept that the Church of England will one day have women bishops, but want to make sure that there's still a place in the Church for those who can't accept them. 

The debates and votes that have happened since have been about how this could happen, particularly how to make provisions for those within the Church who oppose the ordination of women as bishops. This particular vote was to decide on proposals from the House of Bishops about how to provide for this.

According to the rules, it should be five years until the legislation on Women Bishops comes to Synod again. However, the House of Bishops met during December to look at how to start a new process that will pave the way for fresh legislation to be brought forward and approved as soon as possible. It is hoped this will be as early as the first sessions of Synod in 2013.

Timeline of how the women bishops debate has got to this point

Is there a way to influence what happens at Synod?
Of course. While the members of Synod don't have to vote in the way you tell them to, there is nothing to stop you from lobbying the members from our diocese on issues you feel particularly strongly about. Equally, you could consider standing for election yourself the next time members are elected in 2015.

What are the arguments for and against women bishops?
There are strong arguments on both sides of the debate. Those in favour argue that Jesus had prominent women followers or disciples, and point to the strong contribution made to the Church by many of its female clergy. Opponents of women bishops argue that the male imagery used in the Bible when talking about God, along with concepts such as male headship show that leadership in the Church should be a role for men.

Download a more detailed guide to some of the arguments around women bishops

How can I find out the latest news about this?
The Church of England website, contains all the information from past and upcoming sessions of Synod.

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