LONDON (AFP) - The Church of England's governing body on Monday rubber-stamped a historic measure allowing women to become bishops, paving the way for the first ordinations next year.
The General Synod agreed with a show of hands to implement a decision made in a landmark vote in July, following the formal approval of parliament.
"Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the Church and moving forward together," said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. "We will also continue to seek the flourishing of the Church of those who disagree."
Welby signed the change into legislation along with the Archbishop of York John Sentamu on the first day of the synod's meeting in London.
The amendment to Canon 33, which now states that "a man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop", comes 20 years after the first women were ordained as priests.
The battle to make the change was reflected in the Church's short message announcing the news on Twitter, which had the hashtags #Historic #Synod #ItisFinished.
The issue provoked deep divisions in the Church of England, the mother church of the global Anglican Communion, which has some 80 million followers in over 165 countries.
The principle had been strongly opposed by conservatives, but many were persuaded following assurances that the views of parishioners who did not want a female bishop would be taken into account.
Anglican churches in other countries have no obligation to follow the English lead, but it sets a symbolic precedent.
"It has taken a very, very long time and the way is now open to select people for the episcopacy, to nominate them on the basis simply of our sense that they are called by God to be in that position, without qualification as to their gender," Welby told reporters.
There are currently nine vacancies in the Church of England, each of which may now be filled either by a male or a female priest, and Welby said he hoped half of bishops could be women in 10 or 15 years.
"We are working very, very hard on training and development of people, men and women, for senior posts in the Church," he said. "The aim is... that you end up with a big pool of people where gender is irrelevant and that that pool is pretty evenly mixed."