Happy new year!
It isn't long after we add the wise men to the nativity set before the agenda for the next session of General Synod in February gets us thinking about our hopes for women bishops in 2014.
Let's start with a recap of where we got to in 2013. If we're honest, it was a bit of a surprise for us how quickly and positively the year went. A year ago, we were digesting the disastrous failure to pass the measure to admit women to the episcopate in November 2012. There was little hope of substantive progress in 2013, with a blocking minority established in synod and positions on all sides appearing to harden.
Nevertheless, strong leadership from the House of Bishops and positive facilitated conversations between the key campaigning groups and within synod changed the mood. By the end of the year, synod had overwhelmingly approved a package with a simple motion to remove all legal discrimination against women in the episcopate, along with a draft declaration from the House of Bishops to provide provisions for those who cannot accept women bishops for genuine theological reasons.
But there is still a long way to go.
We are now at the point where the draft legislation must go through the process of revision. This is the stage which puts the detailed wording of the legislation to a high degree of scrutiny to ensure it is sound and workable. In an innovation for this process, this process will be conducted in the main session of General Synod, rather than a small committee, to help the measure proceed as quickly as possible.
Whilst this measure is very simple, there remains a danger that amendments are made during the revision process which introduce elements of discrimination, so we urge synod members to keep the legislation unamended through the revision stage.
After revision, comes referral to the dioceses. At this stage, each diocesan synod is required to debate and vote on the proposed legislation. It will only proceed if more than half the dioceses approve. The previous legislation was approved by 42 of the 44 dioceses, so it is unlikely that it will fall at this stage.
After the dioceses, the legislation can return to General Synod for final approval. This is the point at which the vote requires a two thirds majority in favour, in each of the three 'houses' within Synod - Bishops, Clergy and Laity. Whilst there is the potential for the minority who blocked the measure last time to reassert their blocking minority, we are encouraged that in November 2013, General Synod approved this package with an overwhelming majority in all three houses. This vote achieved a far greater majority than was ever achieved during the progress of the previous legislation.
So our prayer for 2014 is to see the final completion of the legislation this year.
This will be remarkable speed (for the Church of England). We are grateful to all who have participated in 2013 for the progress made. These thanks go particularly to those who are opposed to women bishops but have approached this process with a fresh heart and an open mind, to Justin Welby and the House of Bishops who have pressed for continued dialogue when it felt hopeless.
We're not there yet. But we begin 2014 full of hope.