The Frock And The Church

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20120701

When it meets in July 2012, the General Synod of the Church of England must either approve legislation that paves the way for the ordination of women bishops, or reject it. If approved, the first female bishops could start to practice in 2014, twenty years after the first women were ordained in Bristol as Church of England priests. But the move threatens potential chaos for a church that is struggling with other modern day issues such as gay marriage.

The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, once likened the debate about women bishops to how it must have felt just before the outbreak of World War II - "I feel increasingly that we're in January of 1939...There are storm clouds on the horizon and warfare around the corner". For the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in the months before he steps down, it is one of the greatest challenges of his office so far.

Several of his bishops have resigned over the prospect of their counterparts becoming female. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Gloucester said in May, "the worst possible outcome would be for the legislation to go down at final approval in July. There would be a haemorrhaging of women from the Church."

Now, just before the Synod meets, Charlotte Smith walks the Pilgrim's Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury, visiting churches, vicars and congregations on her journey, and asking key players in the Church whether it can accept women into its upper echelons and how it will resolve its differences - if at all.