Church Of England To Ordain Women As Bishops

The Church of England voted overwhelmingly Monday to allow women to serve as bishops. The first woman could be ordained as early as the end of this year.

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Now news of an apparent resolution to a dispute that had threatened to split Britain's established church. The governing body of the Church of England today paved the way for women to become bishops.

Vicki Barker reports from London.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The outcome of any crucial vote in the Church of England's general synod is greeted with complete and prayerful silence. But the numbers spoke for themselves: 378 in favor, eight against. This after two and a half hours of debate in which some of the most passionate traditionalists acknowledged that women bishops are an inevitability.

Susie Leafe was one of the lay delegates who helped defeat a similar measure exactly one year ago.

SUSIE LEAFE: I and my church can only flourish once we've denied our theological convictions and accepted a woman as our chief pastor.

BARKER: Another voice of resignation: That of the Reverend David Houlding of the conservative evangelical group Forward in Faith.

REVEREND DAVID HOULDING: The battle surely is over. Let's now get on with the mission. For the wondrous things he has done, now thank we all our God.

BARKER: James Langstaff, the bishop of Rochester, chaired the session. Afterwards, he was asked to explain a turnaround whose magnitude seems to have caught even some church leaders by surprise.

JAMES LANGSTAFF: The grace of God, I would say, the Holy Spirit working in us and working in us corporately.

BARKER: It is the "corporately" that likely proved decisive here. Church leaders have spent the past year in intensive conversations with all the parties. They also recruited a team of Christian mediators led by a Belfast-born cleric who worked on the Northern Ireland peace process. And this time around, the traditionalists apparently felt they've been granted the guarantees they wanted: that conservative congregations will not be compelled to accept the authority of a woman bishop against their will.

Today's vote does not apply to the worldwide Anglican Communion, only its mother church, the Church of England. And it wasn't final. Under church law, all the dioceses now have to weigh in, with ratification taking place next July.

But feminist theologian Vicky Beeching is confident that, as she puts it, the stained-glass ceiling has been shattered.

VICKY BEECHING: If there'd been a hiccup, I think it would have been today. People that are against theologically have kind of embraced it today. So I think we should hopefully see it go through next July.

BARKER: If the measure does pass next July, the Church of England could see its first women bishops by 2015.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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