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See of Whitby: Fr North withdraws his acceptance

21 December 2012


From the Revd Tim Jones
Sir, - The Revd Philip North is one of those "traditionalist" Church of England priests who did not take the money and run, after the General Synod's decision to ordain women to the priesthood, because they accepted assurances that their theological perspective would not be marginalised or victimised.

I disagree with him; but his recent contribution on the floor of the General Synod a few weeks ago simply voiced an opinion concerning women's ministry which, just one generation ago, was wholly within the mainstream of church life. For Fr North subsequently to be made to feel unable to serve as a bishop in the diocese of York is a matter of deep sadness.

Of course, there is acute disappointment and raw pain that the majority view concerning women in the episcopate did not prevail, and I have a share in that. Any democratic process must take care not to be a vehicle for mob rule, however; hence the genuine need for certain far-reaching decisions in the General Synod to be carried by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses.

I am proud to be in a Church that affords real systemic protection to those of minority viewpoint. If it is the will of God, then I hope Fr North is able to serve as a bishop, somewhere, soon. A Church that is healthy and broad needs voices like his to be heard and honoured, and gifts such as his to be given appropriate scope. If such people are not able to serve in the episcopate, then it turns out that synodical assurances of "respect" were indeed wholly inadequate after all.

The Vicarage, Tang Hall Lane
York YO10 3SD

From Canon Andrew Hawes
Sir, - I have huge sympathy with the Revd Philip North. The atmosphere for traditionalists has become increasingly toxic in the aftermath of the women-bishops vote.

The institutional hysteria encouraged by an ignorant and self-righteous media emboldened the equality fundamentalists to unleash their pent-up frustration at the enemy within. Even in this quiet south-western corner of Lincolnshire, the emails and letters were let fly. Their disdain, held back by political expediency, has been given true vent.

"Trust us," they said before the vote. "Get out of way," they said afterwards. What a pity, and what a tragedy, that these slaves to ideology should claim another scalp.

Surely, if we are such a minority, why not give us a small and separate jurisdiction, where priests like Philip North could use their gifts to the full in the service of the gospel without the constant attrition of deliberate, wilful, and unchristian rejection.

The Vicarage, Church Lane
Edenham, Bourne PE10 0LS

From the Revd Paul Hutchinson
Sir, - The Revd Philip North is a likeable and energetic priest with many skills, and a Catholic heart for mission. This has been evident since his earliest posts in Durham diocese; and the diocese of York has already valued some of his skills as preacher, ordination-retreat conductor, and mission planner. So it is sad for him that he has felt it necessary to withdraw. But there are other voices to be heard.

The Bishop of Whitby is not a flying bishop, but the suffragan with pastoral responsibility for the northern archdeaconry of Cleveland. The archdeaconry does have a concentration of parishes that do not accept the ordination of women, around Middlesbrough. The past two Bishops of Whitby have been well-known conservatives.

But the archdeaconry of Cleveland is by no means a majority "traditionalist" area. There are at least as many women priests here as priests opposed, and a much larger group of parishes (including my own, where Bishops of Whitby have lived since the 1960s) that are fully supportive of women's ordination at all levels. Over the past 14 years, women clergy and their many supporters have struggled with a situation where women's orders are held in question by the local bishop.

The October announcement of a third conservative, however able, has stirred a general sense among many, clergy and laity, that this situation is unacceptable. The vote at the General Synod, and Fr North's speech there, released a groundswell of feeling that enough was enough.

You have reported a letter of protest. I understand it was signed by many of the laity across the archdeaconry. Clergy also have expressed their feelings. The imminent consecration of a new Provincial Episcopal Visitor, well known in this diocese, has further fuelled the majority's sense that a Bishop of Whitby who doubts the orders of some who serve under him is neither necessary nor desirable.

Many here would wish Fr North well. But we hope that, in due course, the local episcopal oversight for the north of York diocese will be provided by a bishop who is both readily available and identifies fully and unequivocally with the ministry of all the clergy. It would be a refreshing change.

The Rectory, Leven Close
Stokesley, Nr Middlesbrough

From the Revd Stephen Cooper
Sir, - So much then for inclusivity, tolerance, and respect among our different traditions! Those who have campaigned so dishonourably against the appointment of the Revd Philip North as the next Bishop of Whitby should hang their heads in shame.

Many of us in the Cleveland archdeaconry are extremely saddened to have lost this opportunity to have such an able and gifted pastor and teacher as our Bishop. Our thoughts and prayers are with Fr North at this very painful and distressing time.

115 Cambridge Road
Middlesbrough TS5 5HF

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