THE new Bishop-designate of Burnley, Fr Philip North CMP, has
said that he never thought he would be called to episcopal ministry
after he withdrew from the nomination as Bishop of Whitby after
complaints about his position on women's ordination (News, 21
Fr North, who is currently Team Rector in the Old St Pancras
Team Ministry, in north London, said on Monday that the episode two
years ago had left him believing that he would stay a parish priest
for good. "I was very, very hesitant about exploring episcopal
ordination again, but the Church of England is in such a different
position, I think," he said.
In 2012, he accepted the nomination to Whitby. But parishioners
in the Archdeaconry of Cleveland complained that he would be the
third traditionalist bishop in a row (
News, 14 December 2012). Fr North withdrew, despite having the
support of the Archbishop of York, fearing that he would not be a
"focus for unity". The see was later filled by the Archdeacon of
Cleveland, the Ven. Paul Ferguson (News, 9 May).
Fr North now feels the C of E has changed, and said he had no
doubts in accepting the office of Bishop of Burnley, in the diocese
"The atmosphere is so different, at the guided conversations, at
Synod, and [there is a] genuine compromise found on women bishops.
There is a much better atmosphere and trust," he said.
He had no regrets. "No, I've had the most fantastic two years of
my entire ministry. It's been a wonderful two years and it is a
Fr North said that, while there was some "trepidation" among
traditionalist Catholics as the appointment of the first women
bishops to the C of E drews nearer, people were not "downbeat".
"I think there is a degree of trepidation as we start to learn
how the new arrangements are going to work," he said. "There a lot
of 'Wait and see'. My message to Catholics is 'Let's grab hold of
it'. We have been issued an invitation to flourish so let's use
some imagination to engage with the wider Church."
He has served in the north before: as a parish priest in
Hartlepool and Sunderland. He pointed out some differences: "There
is a phenomenon going on in the London churches where growth is
almost the default mode. We are used to growing churches, but
Lancashire is not there yet. There are big questions about the
future in terms of clergy numbers."
In the Church Times's Health Check series earlier this
year, Fr North wrote condemning the General Synod, of which he is a
member, as "dysfunctional" and "dangerous", and argued that the C
of E was ungovernable. The College of Bishops was "lumbered with a
job that is impossible", he wrote (Comment, 6
Does he still believe a bishop's job to be impossible? "I think
the C of E is a very difficult organisation to run, and any bishop
who thinks he has access to levers of power is starting from the
wrong place," he replied, cautiously.
"The job is about love and influence and modelling. I don't
think I am going to be in a position of command and control
whatsoever. I hope I can be a pastor and servant who cares for
clergy and congregations."
Joking that he would pass up any bureaucratic jobs to his
diocesan, Fr North said that he believed bishops could be on the
front line just as much as parish clergy.
"We need to recover the role of the bishop as chief evangelist.
The battle for the Christian soul of the nation is won not from
behind a desk but on the streets."
Fr North trained for ministry at St Stephen's House, Oxford, and
worked as Priest Administrator at the National Shrine of Our Lady
of Walsingham before becoming Team Rector in the Old St Pancras
Team in 2008. He is a member of the Archbishops' Task Group on
Evangelism, and has been a member of the Company of Mission Priests