By voting against legislation that would have allowed the ordination of women bishops, the Church of England has lost an opportunity to expand its appeal to forward thinking English faithful.
And by association, it has unfairly cast a shadow on the more progressive segments of the Anglican Church, including the Anglican Church of Canada.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the General Synod, the legislative body of the church, which is made up of separate houses for bishops, clergy and laity, failed to reach the two-thirds majority required in all three houses to pass the measure, following 10 years of debate.
The Church of England, mother church for the world’s 80 million Anglicans, has struggled to reconcile the dispute between reformers and traditionalists on whether to allow women to serve in England.
The church had already agreed to allow women bishops in theory, but Tuesday’s vote on the provisions needed to be approved before female Anglican priests could be promoted to episcopal rank in England. The no vote puts off any proposed reforms for at least another five years.
This failure to pass the legislation has left the church more divided than ever, as women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
The more conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics argued against the policy change saying it would either be a break with long-standing tradition, or go against God’s will which they say calls for a male-only clergy.
Traditionally, the mother church has allowed for the independence of member churches, such as the ACC, a situation that has allowed the Canadian chapter to evolve and adapt to changes in Canadian society.
Women, for example, have been ordained as bishops in Canada since the mid-1970s and in 2002 the Diocese of New Westminster voted to allow parishes to bless same-sex unions if they chose to do so.
The ACC has also taken a moderate stance on the subject of abortion, stating that the rights of women and the rights of the unborn both require protection.
The fact that the mother church has failed to moderate itself is not a surprise, however. The church made headlines when the Archbishop of Canterbury backed something called the “Anglican Covenant,” a scheme that would have centralized bureaucracy throughout the worldwide Anglican community. The aim of the covenant was to give the mother church a tool to discipline Anglican churches in the United States and Canada that veered away from traditional church doctrine — such as allowing for the blessing of same-sex unions.
Though the plan was voted down by a majority of dioceses, it has become clear that the conservative elements within England are failing to change with the times.
As London-based The Guardian wrote in 2008, Christian Research, the statistical arm of the Bible Society, claims that by 2050 Sunday attendance will fall below 88,000, compared with just under a million in recent years.
While the Anglican Church following in Canada is also in decline — as is church attendance in most denominations in what is fast becoming a secular country — the English mother church is hastening its own demise.