THE Church of England has approved the creation of women bishops, in a historic vote in York.

All three houses, the bishops, the clergy and the laity, voted in favour of the move by the necessary majority.

Parliament has to approve the legislation before it becomes church law, and traditionally the Government does not object to General Synod legislation. The exact timetable is yet to be decided, but the first women bishops could be ordained by the New Year.

Among the General Synod members taking part in the historic vote was the Rev Jane Nattrass, who is responsible for six churches in York city centre. She was ordained 14 years ago.

“I am thrilled that this has happened today,” she said. “It has been a long time coming. I think the Church of England has done the right thing today.”

She said the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu chaired the session very well. As is traditional at the General Synod, the results of individual votes were taken in silence before the archbishop led communal singing at the end.

“I enjoyed becoming a Synod member a few weeks and I am thrilled that I was able to press the button to say Yes,” she said.

The meeting was her first as a General Synod and her churches include St Martin-le-Grand on Coney Street, St Helen’s, St Olave’s, All Saints on Pavement, Holy Trinity in Micklegate and St Denys’.

For the Rev Canon Sue Sheriff, another General Synod member, and in charge of the united benefices of Tadcaster, today’s vote marked the culmination of a journey that began more than quarter of a century ago.

“I was ordained as deacon in 1987 and to be honest I never thought today would come. When there were the first women priests, it was like an immense dream come true. This time we have worked so hard for it.”

Members of the Church of England have been hugging each other, and outside the meeting hall, have been jumping and shouting for joy. There are no official celebrations planned, but groups of Synd attenders are making their own private celebrations.

“I have been really quiet. I think I am almost in shock. It feels so surreal,” she said. “Only when I get out of this rarefied atmosphere and get back to my family and friends and parishioners, will I understand what it means because I will see what it means to them. It is just wonderful.”

She has already received many text messages of congratulations and well wishes.

The voting figures were: House of Bishops: 77 in favour, two against, one abstention; House of Clery: 162 in favour, 25 against, four abstentions; House of Laity 152 in favour, 45 against, five abstentions.

The vote reverses one two years, also in York, when the Church of England's General Synod narrowly voted against ordaining women as bishops.

On that occasion, both the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy had the necessary two-thirds majority, but though the House of Laity was also in favour, the majority was not sufficient.

The move failed by six votes.This time, the majority in the House of Laity was 77 per cent or more than three-quarters..

Last year the General Synod, meeting in York, decided to restart the process and in February it voted to shorten the consultation period in the process, opening the way for today's historic vote.

The Church of England has debated the highly divisive issue for years. The result of today's vote was received in near silence at the request of the Archbishop of York in the Central Hall of the University of York.

Women have been ordained as priests for 20 years in the Church of England with one ordination earlier this year at York Minster seeing more women than men ordained for the first time. But until today, every woman priest knew that she could not become a bishop, regardless of her ability.