The visibly emotional scenes within the Church of England’s General Synod landmark meeting last week on whether to allow women bishops has shown a clear picture of just how critical to its future the issue has proved.
Despite nearly three-quarters voting in favour of the move, a traditionalist minority blocked the “yes” vote, which built on legislation 20 years ago which allowed women to become priests.
As outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who had supported the modernising proposals said, the “church now has questions to answer” following the widespread shock at its rejection by the narrowest of margins, following the vote .
This led to William Fittall, secretary general of the General Synod of the Church of England, to state “urgent and radical” changes were required to ensure women bishops could now be appointed.
However, Chichester’s new bishop, Dr Martin Warner, whose diocese covers the Herald and Gazette area, was one of only three bishops across the country to vote against the move.
Speaking at his enthronement last weekend, Dr Warner, acknowledged the majority wanted women to serve as bishops.
He admitted the “Church of England’s self-confidence and national reputation” had been badly affected by the vote.
He added: “We now have to face some very uncomfortable facts that will implicate us all in a review of our decision-making processes as a Church.”
Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Sompting, Erika Howard, who was one of West Sussex’s first famale priests, said she felt many people in her parish shared her disappointment at the rejection of the proposals.
She said: “I am disappointed by this, being one of the first women priests in the diocese.
“While I am well known in the area, I have had to put up with things like one of my male colleagues saying “you are not a proper priest.
“For me, being in the church was a calling.
“I don’t think of myself as a ‘woman priest’ – I am just serving God.
“I would like to see the vote on bishops again with new legislation that is not a halfway house, rather than how it was proposed this time in which diocese that did not want women bishops could be allowed to do that.”
Helen Rose, curate at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Shoreham Beach, described the result of the vote as against women bishops as “shameful.”
She said: “There was initial shock on this as we really thought this was in the bag.
“We think the voting system is wrong and really needs to be looked at.
“I can respect the view of traditionalists on this, but I do not agree with them.
“The result of this vote is as if we are not being treated seriously.”
The Rev Ken King, a member of West Worthing Baptist Church, said: “It’s a pity that the vote was not accepted.
“They have had women priests for so long and this was the next logical step for them, so I am very sorry this did not happen.
“I hope they can find a way to vote again on this.”
Sharing his view, the Rev Zachary Allen, vicar of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, in Rustington, added: “This was going to be messy either way the vote went, but the result does not reflect the views of the vast majority in the church.
“It is very disappointing and we need to look at the decision-making process.
“I would like to have seen it approved.”