I've never been to an "enthronement" before, so I was very pleased to be invited to the official installation of the 103rd Bishop of Chichester on Sunday.

Amongst a large congregation in Chichester Cathedral, I was struck by the majesty of the words with which Dr Martin Warner was installed into office "with its rights and dignities and all its opportunities for service."

Bishop Martin preached his sermon at the end of a difficult week for the Church of England.  On the previous Tuesday, the General Synod had voted, by the narrowest of margins, to reject the latest proposals to make women bishops.

And he admitted that the "Church of England's self-confidence and national reputation" had been badly affected as a result.

I understand that some in the Church have sincere theological objections to women being priests and bishops.

Indeed, in his speech to the General Synod, Bishop Martin had been at pains to emphasise that his own vote could not be taken to imply "that women are inferior to men or must be subject to men, or that they do not have the skills and capacity for the exercise of ministry as priest or bishop."

However, I disagree with those who oppose women bishops.  And the reality is that a third of Church of England clergy are now women, and they make up half of those training for ordination.  I doubt it will be possible for them to be barred from becoming bishops for much longer.

Indeed, Bishop Martin was enthroned by a woman - the Archdeacon of Canterbury, a senior church official who deputises for the Archbishop.

What is clear, and Bishop Martin has made this point himself, is that the Church must find a way through its differences.

The rejection of women bishops has caused a lot of disquiet among MPs.  A backbench debate has been called, and it's even been suggested that Parliament should legislate to allow women bishops, regardless of the Church's position. 

I think this would be a dreadfully mistaken move.  Freedom of religion is a vitally important principle.  And I would also not want to see any move which undermined the Established Church.

I hope that the Church of England changes its mind on this issue.  But don't let's make the mistake of allowing Parliament to try and dictate to churches who they should consecrate as their priests or bishops.

Christopher N Howarth