The Archbishop of York responds to concerns over the nomination of the new Bishop of Sheffield.
Saturday 25th February 2017Writing in the Yorkshire Post today, the Archbishop reaffirmed his support for the nomination of the Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, to be Bishop of Sheffield.
This was in response to concerns expressed both within the Diocese and from the Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy. A fuller version of the article which appears in the Yorkshire Post is published here:
The announcement of the nomination of the Right Reverend Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, to be Bishop of Sheffield, has given rise to much debate in recent days. This nomination ought not to have surprised members of the Church of England who have followed the process by which the Church of England reached agreement to proceed with the consecration of women as bishops.
A report in the Guardian noted that the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy has objected to Bishop North’s nomination with a variety of arguments. Most if not all of those arguments were raised and presented during and before the General Synod debates on this issue in 2014. In supporting the ordination of women as bishops the Synod overwhelmingly did not accept these arguments and favoured a position of mutual flourishing for all in the Church.
Earlier, in 1998, the Lambeth Conference – a gathering of Anglican Bishops from around the world – noted in Resolution III.2 that in relation to the unity of dioceses the Conference “in particular calls upon the provinces of the Communion to affirm that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans".
Much of this might come over as the Church debating the number of angels that might fit on a pinhead. After all Bishop Philip has assured women clergy in the diocese that he is in favour of women’s leadership and would actively promote it. I am firmly convinced that this is true, and am confident that women clergy in the Diocese of Sheffield will not only be accepted, but also be encouraged, inspired, and furthered in their ministry by their new Diocesan Bishop. However, there remain those who question the integrity both of the agreement reached by the Church of England, and of Philip North himself. And that simply won’t do.
Personally, I regard Bishop Philip’s nomination as a moment of opportunity for the Diocese of Sheffield, and for the Church of England as we participate in the mission of God, acknowledging and welcoming our diversity as a community held together in Christ. As I said at the time of the announcement of his nomination, ‘Philip brings with him tremendous energy for mission and ministry. He is a disciple of Christ, full of the Holy Spirit, grace and insight. His wholehearted commitment to Christ, his Gospel and his world will make him a leader who will lead in the way of Christ – with a willingness to be led as well as lead. His experience in a wide range of settings across England has prepared him well for the challenges and opportunities of leadership in the Diocese of Sheffield. It was a joy to work with Bishop Philip on the Crossroads missions both in Sheffield and in Blackburn. His deep understanding of the communities he has served has enabled him to speak for them, and share the love of Christ with them. He is a team player who seeks to bring the best out of everyone. My prayers are with Bishop Philip and the people in the Diocese of Sheffield as he prepares for this exciting new ministry.’ We look forward to welcoming him to our North East region group of Bishops – and in particular to our ‘Talking Jesus’ mission in the Diocese of Durham next weekend.
This debate matters not just because of Philip’s own integrity – which remains unimpeached in the midst of debate – but also because of the nature of the Church of England itself which reached a resolution in 2014 that enabled people who disagree on the consecration of women as bishops being consonant with the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it, to continue to remain together as members of one Church bound together in Jesus Christ. This is not a “winner takes all” approach but rather one that seeks – as the Lambeth resolution said – to recognise that those who dissent as well as those who assent to particular propositions are both treated as loyal members of the Church. It’s a lesson that we need to hear in times where fractious disagreement can threaten to boil over into unwise actions. We should all heed our Lord’s words to John in Mark Chapter 9 vs 38 – 40 who said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.'
It was for those reasons that in May 2014 the House of Bishops made its Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (GS Misc 1076) in the context of the impending legislation enabling the consecration of women to the episcopate which received final approval by the General Synod in July 2014.
Central to the House of Bishops Declaration are the five guiding principles which need to be read one with the other and held together in tension, rather than being applied selectively:
"•Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
•Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
•Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
•Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
•Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England."
Bishop Philip North’s nomination is entirely consistent with these guiding principles. The last two are particularly pertinent. For those reasons, and after much thought and prayer, the Crown Nominations Commission, for the See of Sheffield, nominated the Right Reverend Philip North to be Bishop of Sheffield, and Her Majesty the Queen has accepted their nomination. I look forward to welcoming him to Sheffield.