Church of England prepares for female bishops

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Media captionThe BBC's Caroline Wyatt: "It was an understated moment for such a dramatic change to the church"

The Church of England will break with centuries of tradition on Monday when the general synod amends Church law to allow the appointment of female bishops. How do church members feel about the change?

At Sunday service at St Mary Newington church in south London, there's a real sense of anticipation over the knowledge that, from Monday afternoon, women will be able to become bishops.

Two decades after the Church of England first accepted women priests, parishioners here say it's high time.

"Finally, finally, it's been so ridiculous that we've had to wait so long," says one woman after the service.

"It's very good. Christianity is about humanity, and women are equal to men," agree two young men.

"It just feels that the time is right," another female parishioner adds.

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Image caption The first female bishops could be announced in the new year

It was in July this year that the historic vote at the general synod in York took place - allowing women to wield real power in the Church after an earlier setback two years before when the synod voted no.

After the change to canon law is made, the first female bishop in the Church of England can finally be appointed. Who that might be is likely to be announced in the new year.

The Church has ensured that there will be interim measures to help parishes that object, by ensuring that the first female bishops have male bishops under their leadership - so-called 'flying bishops', able to carry out some duties on their behalf.

'Affirmative action'

The Right Reverend James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, who chaired the steering group on women bishops legislation, says opponents have accepted that reality - "because it's quite clear we are not having two classes of women bishop here".

"A bishop in the Church of England is a bishop, whether they are male or female."

But there will not be any "positive discrimination" were there to be a dead heat between male and female candidates for a post.

Image caption The Right Reverend James Langstaff said making sure women were ready for the roles was "important"

The bishop says real efforts have been made and are being made to make sure that "those women who now may be candidates are able to be, as it were, on the level with their male colleagues who have been looking at this for some time".

That has meant special leadership training for women who are considered the front-runners for the first jobs.

"It is important that women who are interviewed for these posts are able to be considered absolutely on the level with their male colleagues," the bishop adds.

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Image caption The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin is excited by the change

The first four dioceses that could choose women as a senior bishop are Southwell & Nottingham, Oxford, Gloucester and Newcastle - although five other, more junior posts of suffragan bishop could be filled even sooner.

'Momentous moment'

For whoever becomes the first women bishop to serve in England, the pressures will be immense, according to the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to the speaker of the House of Commons.

"This synod is going to be momentous", she says: "As a woman, I am absolutely excited that people of my gender will no longer be able to be cast aside, in effect, but that they will be considered part of the leadership within the Church of England."

She can't wait for the brief yet historic moment when the synod meets on Monday afternoon.

"At that moment, when the show of hands go up, I think many of us will be deeply moved. There will be joy but there will also be some sadness," she says.

"Sadness that we have had to fight, and sadness that those women who gave and gave to the Church for all those years did not have this chance. The Church has lost so much from that.

"But I hope that as we go forward, we will go forward in a spirit of grace."

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