ABUJA (Reuters) - The next Archbishop of Canterbury is confident he will consecrate a female bishop, he said on Thursday, two days after the Church of England voted against allowing women to become bishops.
Bishops and clergy on Tuesday in the General Synod, the Church legislature, comfortably backed the change but lay members were four votes short of a two-thirds majority.
“It’s clear that woman are going to be bishops in the Church of England,” said Justin Welby, who will take over from Rowan Williams as the spiritual leader of the Anglican wing of world Christianity at the end of the year.
“It was a pretty grim day for the whole church. There is a lot to be done but I am absolutely confident that at some point I will consecrate a woman bishop,” Welby said during a visit to promote religious reconciliation in Nigeria, which has the world’s biggest mixed Christian-Muslim population.
Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, but Anglican churches in many developing countries oppose any female clergy and are working together to shield themselves against such reforms.
The Church of England finds itself somewhere in the middle, struggling to reconcile the views of reformers and traditionalists. The measure cannot now be approved for at least five years.
Welby, an experienced conflict negotiator, drew the loudest applause on Tuesday when he urged members to compromise and vote for the measure, citing bloody conflicts in the Middle East and Africa as examples of what intractable differences can lead to.
He was in Nigeria to launch a programme to strengthen ties between Christians and Muslims, being run by former British prime minister Tony Blair’s foundation. Blair was also present.
Welby said he had visited Nigeria 75 times. Welby worked in the oil industry in the 1980s, but has also visited Nigeria as a cleric.
Islamist sect Boko Haram has killed hundreds this year in northern Nigeria in its fight to impose Islamic or Sharia law on the West African country, whose population of 160 million people is split evenly between Christians and Muslims.
Welby has experience of negotiating with militants in the southern oil-producing Niger Delta swamps and with Islamists in the north during his 34 years visiting Nigeria.
But he said the skills he learned in Nigeria that will be most useful in his new role were humour and patience.
“Nigerians bring humour into everything they do,” Welby said, before telling a famous joke among Nigerians about the defunct state-power company to raucous laughter from the audience of local media, religious figures and diplomats.
“Their combination of determination and energy and patience, but with this terrific good humour, is something we need to take with us for the issues we’re facing.”
Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Jon Hemming