The Church of England’s General Synod voted today to allow female bishops, a move supported by it leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
After the measure failed to pass two years ago, it sailed through the national assembly today with an overwhelming majority—351 members voted for it, 72 voted against, and 10 abstained.
The Church of England paved the way for the ordination of female priests in 1975, although the first was not ordained until the early 1990s. Welby said it would not take that long for the church to see its first female bishop. He expects to appoint the first one by next year. Women now make up one-third of the Church’s clergy.
Other members of the global Anglican Community already allow female bishops, including The Episcopal Church in the United States, which is headed by a woman.
Today’s vote was widely expected after the General Synod took a procedural poll last year that set the stage for the measure’s final approval. Church leaders faced pressure over the issue for years, with Prime Minister David Cameron even threatening to get Parliament involved if the Church didn’t allow women in its top leadership ranks soon. The Church of England is a state church, and 24 of its 108 bishops hold seats in the House of Lords.
Despite the overwhelming approval for female bishops, Welby acknowledged some traditionalists would not be comfortable with the change.
“It will be hard work, progress will be all but impossible to achieve without a fresh embrace of one another in love,” he said. “Today this legislation allows us to move forward together, all of us as faithful Anglicans, all of us committed to each other’s flourishing and the life of the Church not just in what we say but in how we now live and work together in the months and years ahead. That is as true for those who find this difficult to accept as it is for those who rejoice in it and vice versa.”
Reform, a conservative group working with the Church of England urged its members to vote against the measure, in part over doubt about the ability of traditionalists to maintain their beliefs and practices after the vote. The group’s covenant includes a statement supporting male headship in church leadership: “Our understanding of God’s way of life for his people includes: The unique value of women’s ministry in the local congregation but also the divine order of male headship, which makes the headship of women as priests in charge, incumbents, dignitaries, and bishops inappropriate.”