Listen now 28 mins
When it meets in July 2012, the General Synod of the Church of England will be voting on legislation that paves the way for the ordination of women bishops. If it is 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 it may be rejected or deferred. Whatever the outcome, the move threatens chaos for a church that is struggling with other modern day issues such as same sex marriage.
Several bishops have already 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."
This is one of the biggest challenges facing this long standing institution, so how will it cope?
To find out, Charlotte Smith walks the Pilgrim's Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury, visiting churches, vicars and congregations, 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.
Among those she talks to are Rev Martyn Neale, vicar of Holy Trinity, in Blackwater; April Alexander, member of the House of Laity in the General Synod; Andrea Trevenna, Bible Teacher for Women at St Nicholas Church in Sevenoaks; the Bishop of Buckingham, Rt Rev Alan Wilson; and Rev Claire Edwards, Canon at Canterbury Cathedral. From them she gains an understanding of how wide the divide is between those who can and those who cannot accept female bishops, yet is struck by how they all wish to remain in a church that has long accommodated a broad range of beliefs, but may not be able to this time.
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