The Church of England’s governing body on Tuesday narrowly blocked a move to permit women to serve as bishops, leaving the church facing more years of contentious debate.

Following a daylong debate, opponents mustered enough support to deny the necessary two-thirds majority among lay members of the General Synod, with backers falling six votes short of passage.

Many speakers expressed regret that they were unable to agree on a way forward.

“Whatever the outcome, there is no victory in the coming days,” said Rev. Angus MacLeay, summing up for the opposition. “It is a train crash.”

The defeat was a setback for Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who retires at the end of December, and his successor, Bishop Justin Welby. Both had strongly endorsed a proposed compromise that they had hoped would end decades of debate on the issue in the church which has around 80 million members worldwide.

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