In September it will be 10 years since the Governing Body agreed a Bill to enable women to be ordained to the priesthood in Wales. The first women priests in the Church in Wales were ordained in January 1997, and since then the Church has benefited from the significant contribution that women have made to this form of ordained ministry.
During the same period other provinces of the Anglican Communion have been considering the question of women and the episcopate. Some of us will have experienced the ministry of women bishops in other Anglican provinces and perhaps also in some of the churches of the Porvoo Communion. This question has been decided by the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church, and is currently being considered by the Church of England.
The Bench of Bishops has come to the conclusion that it would now be appropriate to ask this question of the Church in Wales. As with the debate 10 years ago, we recognise that the change being contemplated would hold difficulties for some, and that it will be necessary for the Church to prepare itself thoroughly for a debate on the subject.
In December 2005 the Bench informed the Standing Committee of its intention to initiate a period of discussion within the Church to help it prepare a Bill to enable women to be ordained to the episcopate in Wales. Further consideration was given to this process in January and March, and we are writing to Governing Body members and clergy now to let you know what the process will be. The Bench has commissioned a special edition of Theology Wales on the subject of women and the episcopate, copies of which will be circulated to all Governing Body members, clergy and Parochial Church Council secretaries in early August. The purpose of this publication will be to inform a period of discussion within each diocese between September 2006 and April 2007. Other provinces that have already undergone this process will be consulted so that we might gain the benefit of their experience.
In April 2007 there will be an initial discussion at the Governing Body on the issues raised during this period, following which the Bench of Bishops will prepare a Bill for discussion with the Standing Committee and for consideration and decision by the Governing Body in April 2008.
We would encourage your participation in this process: to read and think about the special edition of Theology Wales this summer, to engage with the period of discussion in your diocese, and (if you are a member of the Governing Body) to contribute to the initial debate next April. We would urge you to discuss and pray about these matters within your parishes and deaneries.