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Long road ahead still remains for female bishops in Church of England

The Church of England has voted to approve female bishops but a long road still remains for them to be fully accepted by the church.

WASHINGTON: The Church of England has voted to approve female bishops, with the first ones likely to be appointed next year. But it is behind many other areas of the Anglican Communion on the issue -- most especially the US, which will celebrate 40 years of having ordained women priests at the end of this month. America's first female bishop, meanwhile, was elected in Massachusetts back in 1988.

Mariann Budde is Washington DC's first female bishop. Consecrated in 2011 in a service at Washington National Cathedral, she is delighted that English women will soon be joining the ranks of Anglican female leaders. Rev Budde said: "There has been such longing and such a sense of frustration that it's taken this long, and given that the majority of people were so in favour of this, just to finally have the vote go through, and go through cleanly, without having to do any great machinations to make it come to pass."

Although women bishops have been around in the Episcopal Church -- the American arm of the Anglican communion -- since the 1980s, it has not always been an easy ride and is not without its problems.

Rev Budde added: "There are very few women who hold a position like I do as the leader of a diocese. There are only three of us I think right now, and so to say that the issues are past for us would not be accurate either. It can be difficult. The difference now is that it's not difficult for a woman to get her name on the slate for election, but it's another thing to actually be elected. You look forward to the day when that isn't the first thing you say about a person, is their gender, but rather their gifts and their competencies."

She is hopeful that this is a turning point. She said: "With every country in the Anglican Communion where this threshold is crossed, it gets easier, because they're not alone. There are women bishops around the world. I think it gets harder, actually, for the churches that continue to hold out and not ordain women to the episcopate. It's a great time to be a woman in the church now, because that door is open, if you're willing to walk through it."

Rev Budde began her training at Virginia Theological Seminary -- the seminary's Professor of Christianity in America, Bob Prichard, explained how she was able to become an Episcopal bishop in the Anglican Communion long before her fellow female Anglicans in England: "In the 70s and 80s, churches in effect said: 'we think it's allowable for individual churches to make different decisions on this issue.' So I think part of this comes from having a church which is not established. We didn't have to worry about what Congress thought or what Parliament thought, and so we ended up making a lot of decisions about the role of women in a very concentrated period of time, in just six years if you will."

Looking to the future, other women at the seminary hope this will make the church a more representative institution. Melody Knowles, Academic Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Old Testament at the seminary, said: "I would find that, as someone who has children, it would be odd for me to bring my daughter and son to a place where they would know that only one of them would ever have the potential to be called to lead this institution on a national level."

In the US, female bishops like Mariann Budde hardly turn any heads any more - they are part of the fabric of today's Episcopal Church. And after the vote in York, they hope the same will soon be true for their Anglican sisters in the Church of England as well.

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