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.
Rev. Rachel Weir, leader of Women and the Church, said the group was "absolutely devastated."
"Not just devastated on behalf of clergy women, obviously this will be an enormous blow to clergy women, it's awful for their morale, but it's a disaster for the Church of England."
Passage of legislation to allow women to serve as bishops must be approved by two-thirds majorities in the synod's three houses: bishops, priests and laity.
The vote was 132 in favour and 74 against. In separate votes, bishops voted 44-3 in favour with 2 abstentions, and clergy voted 148-45 in favour.