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A Woman's Place...Is in the House of Bishops

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The insiders are saying it's on a knife edge. It may be a matter of only two votes. The three houses of the General Synod - Bishops, Clergy and Laity - are making a crucial decision this week. The house of Laity is proving to be the most stubborn on the issue of women bishops. The people in the pews who stay quiet whilst the vicar preaches are making their voices heard.

Christians with the stamina to stick with the Synod have been debating this issue for years. Every eventuality and conundrum has been weighed up and discussed in true English Anglican style: compromise. Amendments, thrown out propositions, caveats, contingency arrangements have been meticulously negotiated. It is a wonder any members of the General Synod still believe in people, never mind Jesus Christ! All of them must be praised for their saintly patience.

But this vote may well put an end to all that talk. There will indeed be compromise should the Yes vote carry more weight and a seismic shift will occur: women will be in charge.

It was in 1997 when a strange sensation dawned upon me: I should be a priest. Once I admitted it to myself everything seemed obvious to me and those who knew me well. Had this happened only a few years earlier it would not have been possible: the vote for women priests was passed in 1992. It was won by the narrowest of margins but it was enough to signal a green light for the girls.

To say I have never had to fight would be incorrect. It is not uncommon for female clergy to be outnumbered in clerical gatherings; the old boy networks are still strong; senior roles in the church continue to be held by men: female canons and archdeacons are not by any means prevalent. Things are changing, however; the gender ratio of those training for the priesthood is currently 50:50. Many predict that women will soon predominate.

Every week I get stopped in the street. "I've not seen a lady vicar before! Can I call you mother? Or are you father?" No vicar ever goes unnoticed, but when a female priest is clocked it's normally a double-take. "You'd better get used to us," is normally my winning reply. A female parishioner recently confessed that she preferred women priests, as she could relate to them much better. The Church has certainly been enriched by the influx of women over the years.

Whilst I have been turned cold by the tedium of negotiation it is the forerunners to whom I am forever thankful. Women and the Church (WATCH) has campaigned for years advocating women's ordination. Many of its members were burning their deaconess stoles years before I got mine. When women were finally accepted into the priesthood, WATCH continued to campaign for women's inclusion into the episcopate. Everyone, even those rabidly opposed to the mere idea that women might take up holy orders, knew that WATCH (and those with any common sense and theological insight) would continue to bang on the door of Episcopal Office.

A purple tea towel hangs on my oven door. And in Biblical font it is written, A woman's place is... in the house of Bishops.

I pray that it may be so.