I first read that the Synod had voted against the introduction of women bishops through the BBC Breaking News feed on Twitter and so had full access to the intense reaction that followed. Despite being one hundred per cent behind the introduction of female bishops, I felt the national outpouring of anger and grief directed at the Anglican Church seemed misplaced. Strangely, however, I wasn’t that surprised. Some might argue that I was too cynical about the introduction of women bishops from the very beginning but, after attending a hardline independent church for the first sixteen years of my life, I suppose I should be glad that I still have a faith at all.

At my first church, women were not allowed to be ministers. They were not even allowed to serve on the equivalent of the church council, preach, or teach mixed groups. In short they were not allowed anywhere they might be seen as holding authority over men. After all, the Bible was quite clear about this, or so I was taught. Men were given the role of looking after their families, including the women in them. Women could only serve in an administrative capacity or in children or women only situations.

So how on earth did somebody who claims to be a feminist survive sixteen years in a church like that and still remain a Christian? For the first 14 years I was safely tucked away in Sunday School or Youth groups and in all honesty I didn’t much notice the lack of women preachers. Even when I was older I didn’t particularly care; my church was led by middle-aged men. That wasn’t a problem. That was just how churches were. Around aged sixteen, however, our minister started a series of sermons about God’s plans for men and women.

It was the first time anybody had explicitly preached to me about my “role as a woman”. The sermons were, in hindsight, shocking and had a startlingly clear message; men were spiritually responsible for the women in their lives. If a woman sinned or lost her faith, then somehow God saw that as her husband’s responsibility. Given such a position of spiritual inequality, it was hardly surprising that women weren’t seen fit to preach or do anything that would require them to have their own authoritative spiritual connection to God. I was completely confused by this. How could my God, my God who I’d been taught was all-loving and all-merciful, really be more likely to communicate with my brother or male friends than me? It was like being told that your best teacher secretly had favourites of their own and you weren’t one of them. I just didn’t see how it was fair. I was upset and angry both at God and at the people who were telling me this.

Thankfully at this point my mother realised that whilst she was secure enough in her faith to listen to these sermons and dismiss them, I was still too young to survive in that atmosphere. She quickly whisked me out of there into a neighbouring Church of England church where we already had friends. Shortly afterwards my father joked that he had finally taken the message about the responsibility of men for the spiritual life of their families to heart and decided that in that case he didn’t want any of us anywhere near our original church, and resigned our membership for good.

At my new church, whilst never having had a female vicar, I’ve heard incredible, passionate women speak with the exact same spiritual authority that a man can, and been glad that my new Church has come as far as it has from its origins. Yet even in this new, free, Christian faith having a female vicar would take me some getting used to. Not because I wouldn’t want a female vicar, indeed I would actively welcome one, but simply because of the unfamiliarity of the concept. Sixteen years of indoctrination about the role of women may have been shaken from my mind, but the underlying traditional attitude still influences what I subconsciously imagine when I picture a Vicar.

So how can I possibly be angry at those members of the Synod, who with many more years of experience of only male bishops, feel uncomfortable with the idea of introducing women to the role? I wish the vote had passed. But this is still an incredible step forward for the Church in an age when, despite what is happening in the secular community, large areas of the Anglican Church – and other denominations –  are still clinging to their historic views of what women’s role in religion should be. That so many of the bishops and clergy, and even the laity, in the Anglican Church therefore voted for the introduction of women bishops is thus a huge encouragement to me. It says that the majority of people in my Church do believe in equality in religion and that one day soon female bishops will inevitably become a reality.  It may not have happened this time, but there will be other chances.

A vote as close as this paves the way for those who cling to the idea of male-only bishops, to begin to step away from their increasingly isolated position and join a stronger and united Church when the vote does eventually pass.

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