The Church of England's General Synod -- despite objections from its spiritual leader, the archbishop of Canterbury -- voted heavily today in favor of drafting legislation that would permit the ordination of women as priests.
Although there are more than 700 women Anglican priests elsewhere in the Commonwealth and around the world, including the United States, there are no women priests in this country, the cradle of the Anglican Church.
The 307-to-183 vote in favor of bringing forward legislation to permit ordination brought joy to the galleries, packed with women, at the General Synod's meeting here.
Although it will still be 1990 at the earliest before the first woman priest could be ordained and other legal hurdles could derail the plan, the vote was hailed by supporters as a sign that the Church of England is able to adjust to change.
The General Synod had approved the principle of women priests in 1975. Church officials noted that for the forthcoming draft legislation to become church law it must get a two-thirds majority when the final vote is taken, perhaps four years from now.
The Anglican Church, which dates back to the 16th century, has about 65 million followers worldwide. But their leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, was among those who voted against women priests in the Church of England today, saying that while "the argument for the ordination of women now tips the balance favorably," the time was not ripe.
Runcie said the church should wait until there was more experience with woman deacons (who rank below priests) and with woman priests from abroad, and until there is more dialogue within the church.
Those agreeing with Runcie made two key points.
One was that the move contradicts what opponents of ordination called the "essential maleness" of God. One synod member, Veronica Finch, said, "He sent his only son to be our savior. He didn't send his only daughter, and to me, the priest at the altar represents Christ."
The second key argument was that ordination would cause divisiveness in the Church of England and set back moves toward greater unity with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
But synod member Mrs. Christian Howard reflected the majority opinion when she said that while the church should listen to what others have to say, "It should not spend its time calculating what others will do. What really matters is what is right, . . . not what is expedient."