LONDON — The Church of England voted Monday to allow women to serve as bishops, a historic decision that takes the church a step closer toward achieving gender equality.
The move effectively shatters the glass ceiling that prevented women here from being promoted to top church jobs and was made possible after reformers and traditionalists reached a compromise that would satisfy parishes opposed to female bishops.
At their annual gathering at the University of York, 351 members of the General Synod, the church’s ruling body, voted in favor of the proposal while 72 voted against it and 10 abstained.
That it has taken this long for the church, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, to make the move may seem baffling to Anglicans in countries such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand, where women already serve as bishops.
It has been baffling for many here, too, with churchgoers and even the prime minister accusing the Church of England of being out of step with the times.
But the issue of women as bishops remains highly divisive in the global Anglican community. The majority of the world’s 80 million Anglicans reside in Africa, where many vehemently oppose the idea.
In concessions to opponents with theological objections, the package of measures passed Monday allows a parish unsatisfied with a female bishop to ask for a male alternative and take its complaints to an independent body.
“You don’t chuck out family or even make it difficult for them to be at home,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in reference to the traditionalists during a lively, five-hour debate that preceded the vote.
When Welby was confirmed to his post last year, he inherited a church still reeling from a crisis sparked in 2012 after a similar proposal to ordain women as bishops was rejected by six votes. At the time, an influential group of lawmakers called for the government to intervene and revoke the church’s exemption from equality legislation.
The church approved the ordination of female priests 22 years ago, but they were barred from becoming bishops because of opposition from male clergy. Today, women make up about one-third of all church clergy but are less likely than their male counterparts to receive a stipend for their work.
During the gathering Monday, a message was read out from Desmond Tutu, the retired archbishop of South Africa, where women already serve as bishops. “Wow, you are in for a great surprise and a treat,” he wrote. “Yippee!”