The General Synod of the Church of England voted today that women can be consecrated as bishops, 18 months years after a similar measure was controversially voted down.
The vote required passage by a two-thirds majority in the synod’s three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. The House of Bishops approved of women bishops 37 to 2 with one abstention, the House of Clergy approved 162 to 25 with four abstentions, and the House of Laity approved 152 to 45 with five abstentions.
In an interview with BBC prior to the vote, Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby, who supported consecrating women bishops, said there’s a “good chance of the first woman bishop being announced very early in 2015, possibly been chosen before that.”
In 2012, a vote to approve allowing women bishops passed among bishops and clergy but failed by six votes among lay members.
Like the vote that year, more traditional Anglicans, including evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, argued in front of the synod that having women as bishops would go against the teachings of Jesus. If Jesus intended women to be among the top church leaders, he would have had a woman among the Twelve Apostles, some of the traditionalists said. But a higher number of more conservative Anglicans were swayed to vote for women bishops this year, ending two decades of controversy over the role of women in leadership since the church started allowing women priests in 1994.
“Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases disagreeing. The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds,” Welby said in a statement.
The high-ranking Archbishop of York, where the synod had met, called the outcome a “moment of joy.”
“To those who ask ‘what took you so long?” my answer is that every decision has a cost and there will be those within our body who will be hurting as a result of this decision,” Rev. John Sentamu of York said in a statement. “Our answer to the hurting should not be ‘get over it’ but rather ‘we will not let go until you have blessed us.'”
The Church of England, which is the considered the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, counts among it 80 million members in more than 160 countries. The church traces its history to Henry VIII, under whom the church split from Roman Catholics. All Anglicans share the same basic tenets of faith but views on gender, sexuality, worship style and other issues vary widely by region.
For example, the communion includes the two-million member Episcopal Church in the United States, one of the most liberal denominations in the country and as well as in the Anglican communion. Its current top leader, Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a woman. Episcopalians also ordain gay priests and voted in 2012 to bless same-sex marriages and ordain transgender priests. In 2003, the church voted to elect its first gay bishop.
Anglican Communion members in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand also consecrate women bishops.