The possibility of women being admitted to the orders of deacon, priest and bishop has been on the Church of England's agenda since at least 1966 when Women and Holy Orders was produced for the Church Assembly. Over the succeeding two decades, the General Synod followed up with The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood (1972), The Ordination of Women (1978) and The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: Further Report (1984).
The women priests debate
In 1975, General Synod passed the motion: 'That this Synod considers that there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood'. It did not pass a second motion asking for the legal barriers to women's ordination to be removed and legislation to permit their ordination to be brought forward.
In 1978 the motion: 'That this Synod asks the Standing Committee to prepare and bring forward legislation to remove the barriers to the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate' was passed by the House of Bishops and the House of Laity, but was lost in the House of Clergy by 94 votes to 149.
In 1981 the General Synod resolved that the order of deacon should be open to women and passed the requisite legislation in 1985. For the first time, women were permitted to be part of one of the historic threefold orders of ministry in the Church of England and the first women deacons were duly ordained in 1987.
In 1984 the General Synod voted for legislation 'to permit the ordination of women to the priesthood' to be prepared. The motion made no reference to the episcopate.
In July 1988, General Synod gave general approval to the draft legislation.
After further discussion in the dioceses (where 38 out of 44 Diocesan Synods voted in favour), in General Synod and in Convocation, the measure to permit women to be ordained as priests was debated by General Synod on 11 November 1992, where it received the necessary two-thirds majority in all three Houses. General Synod also approved a measure providing for financial provision for clergy who resigned their offices over the theological issue of women's ordination.
In the light of additional pastoral arrangements for those opposed on theological grounds proposed by the House of Bishops and subsequently approved by the Synod in the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod of 1993, the Ecclesiastical Committee of the Houses of Parliament found the measure expedient and it subsequently received Parliamentary approval in both Houses of Parliament in 1993. The measure received Royal Assent on 5 November 1993. All the necessary legislation having been passed, the first women priests in the Church of England were ordained at Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994.
The women bishops debate
In July 2000, the General Synod requested a thorough theological study on the question of women in the episcopate after debating a motion put by Archdeacon Judith Rose as follows: "That this Synod ask the House of Bishops to initiate further theological study on the episcopate, focusing on the issues that need to be addressed in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate in the Church of England, and to make a progress report on this study to Synod within the next two years."
An interim progress report was presented to Synod in July 2002 and Women Bishops in the Church of England?, the report of the House of Bishops' Working Party on Women in the Episcopate, chaired by the Rt Revd Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, was published in November, 2004.
The General Synod discussed the report in February 2005.
Further clarificatory work by the Bishops of Guildford and Gloucester resulted in GS Misc 826, published in May 2006.
The General Synod passed a succession of motions in July 2005, February 2006 and July 2006. In July 2005, it said that 'the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate should now be set in train.' In February 2006, it commissioned the further work in the light of the Guildford Report. It then, in July 2006, passed motions as follows:
'That this Synod welcome and affirm the view of the majority of the House of Bishops that admitting women to the episcopate in the Church of England is consonant with the faith of the Church as the Church of England has received it and would be a proper development in proclaiming afresh in this generation the grace and truth of Christ.'
'That this Synod, endorsing Resolution 111.2 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 "that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans" and believing that the implications of admitting women to the episcopate will best be discerned by continuing to explore in detail the practical and legislative arrangements:
(a) invite dioceses, deaneries and parishes to continue serious debate and reflection on the theological, practical, ecumenical and missiological aspects of the issue;
(b) invite the Archbishops' Council, in consultation with the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops and the Appointments Committee, to secure the early appointment of a legislative drafting group, which will aim to include a significant representation of women in the spirit of Resolution 13/31 of the Anglican Consultative Council passed in July 2005, charged with:
(i) preparing the draft measure and amending canon necessary to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women to the office of bishop;
(ii) preparing a draft of possible additional legal provision consistent with Canon A4 to establish arrangements that would seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion with those conscientiously unable to receive the ministry of women bishops;
(iii) submitting the results of its work to the House of Bishops for consideration and submission to Synod; and
(c) instruct the Business Committee to make time available, before first consideration of the draft legislation, for the Synod to consider, in the light of any views expressed by the House of Bishops, the arrangements proposed in the drafting group's report.'
In September 2006, The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, was appointed by the Archbishops' Council to chair the legislative drafting group to consider proposals for allowing women to be consecrated as bishops as called for in those motions. Once the whole group had been appointed, it started its work in January 2007.
The legislative drafting group published its report in April 2008 on the issues surrounding the drafting.
In July 2008, General Synod called for legislation to be drafted in line with the motion: 'That this Synod:
(a) affirm that the wish of its majority is for women to be admitted to the episcopate;
(b) affirm its view that special arrangements be available, within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests;
(c) affirm that these should be contained in a statutory national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard; and
(d) instruct the legislative drafting group, in consultation with the House of Bishops, to complete its work accordingly, including preparing the first draft of a code of practice, so that the Business Committee can include first consideration of the draft legislation in the agenda for the February 2009 group of sessions.'
The legislation, in the form of a draft Measure, was published May 2010.
Later that month, the House of Bishops issued a statement on the draft Measure.
In July 2010, the Synod left the draft legislation largely unamended. In September 2010, the draft legislation was referred to the dioceses for debate and vote ('Reference to dioceses' explains this process in more detail and contains links to the relevant documentation under discussion).
In February 2012, the Synod received a report (GS 1847) on the Reference to dioceses. Of the 44 dioceses, 42 had approved the legislation by a simple majority. The Synod then debated diocesan synod motions on making provision for those who, for theological reasons, would not be able to receive the ministry of women bishops. Synod voted in favour of an amended motion that asked that the House of Bishops should not amend the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure "substantially".
The draft Measure required the House of Bishops to draw up a code of practice (which would not have been subject to the diocesan reference procedure). This could not have been formally drawn up or laid before the Synod for approval until after the legislation had received Royal Assent. An initial illustrative draft code was prepared by the legislative drafting group in 2009 and in the light of changes subsequently made to the draft legislation the House of Bishops accepted the recommendation of the Revision Committee that further work on a draft code should proceed, rather than waiting for the various legislative stages to be completed. A House of Bishops working party on the Code of Practice (chaired by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich) started work in November 2010 with a view to enabling the House of Bishops and the General Synod to engage further with the shape of a draft code before the draft legislation reaches the Final Approval stage. The Bishop gave a presentation on the illustrative code (GS Misc 1007 link) to the Synod in February 2012.
At its May 2012, meeting the House of Bishops decided what amendments to make to the draft legislation. The two archbishops, the two Prolocutors (chairs of the House of Clergy) and the chair and vice-chair of the House of Laity, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and having received legal advice, determined by a majority that those amendments did not alter the 'substance of the proposals embodied' in the legislation and the legislation was returned to the General Synod for Final Approval.
The Final Approval stage, at which two-thirds majorities are required in each House, was reached in July 2012. If approved, the legislation would then go to Parliament for consideration by the Ecclesiastical Committee and each House of Parliament (see GS Misc 1012). In July, an adjournment motion was moved and carried, asking the House of Bishops to reconsider the amendment to Clause 5(1)(c) that they had made to the legislation. Debate on the legislation was consequently adjourned.
After further consideration and amendment to Clause 5(1)(c) by the House of Bishops, the legislation returned to the General Synod for Final Approval in November 2012. After a day of debate, the Synod voted by Houses as follows:
Bishops 44 ayes 3 noes 2 abstentions
Clergy 148 ayes 45 noes 0 abstentions
Laity 132 ayes 74 noes 0 abstentions
The legislation having failed to reach the required two-thirds majority in one House (Laity) the legislation was rejected and could not be brought back to the Synod in that form before 2015.
On November 28, the Archbishops' Council issued the following statement on the future process.
"The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England met on November 27-28 to consider a wide ranging agenda. A substantial amount of time was given over to the discussion of the recent vote by General Synod on Women in the Episcopate.
"As part of their reflections, many council members commented on the deep degree of sadness and shock that they had felt as a result of the vote and also of the need to affirm all women serving the church - both lay and ordained - in their ministries.
"In its discussions the Council decided that a process to admit women to the episcopate needed to be restarted at the next meeting of the General Synod in July 2013. There was agreement that the Church of England had to resolve this matter through its own processes as a matter of urgency. The Council therefore recommended that the House of Bishops, during its meeting in a fortnight's time, put in place a clear process for discussions in the New Year with a view to bringing legislative proposals before the Synod in July."