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Another woman bishop appointed, as Horsham changes his view

12 June 2015


Nurses together: Canon Mullally (centre) with Lin Denard and Julia Halpern, parish nurses from the Two Rivers Mission Community, in north Devon, on Tuesday 

Nurses together: Canon Mullally (centre) with Lin Denard and Julia Halpern, parish nurses from the Two Rivers Mission Community, ...

TWO significant developments took place this week in the continuing acceptance of women bishops in the Church of England.

The first was the announcement that the Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, Canon Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, has been appointed Bishop of Crediton, a suffragan post in the diocese of Exeter. She will taking up her post next month.

Before ordination, Canon Mullally had a successful NHS career, culminating in her appointment as the youngest-ever Chief Nursing Officer in 1999. She began full-time ministry in 2004, and in 2005 she was appointed DBE for services to nursing and midwifery.

When she is consecrated next month in Canterbury Cathedral she will become the Church of England's fourth woman bishop, the first not to have a clerical husband.

The Bishops-designate of Hull and Gloucester, Canon Alison White and the Ven. Rachel Treweek, will be consecrated at the same time.

Canon Mullally is married to a business architect and has two adult children. After ordination in 2001 she combined her work as Chief Nursing Officer with a part-time curacy in Battersea, south London. She later became a parish priest in Surrey, before becoming Canon Treasurer at Salisbury in 2012.

Speaking on Tuesday, Canon Mullally said that, across Devon, the Church was often the only local facility left and remained as a symbol of "God's enduring love".

"Throughout my life, as both a nurse and a priest, I have experienced this love, and I hope as Bishop to be able to share that love with others."

The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, said that Canon Mullally was an "outstanding" appointment. "She will bring to her new role the same mixture of compassion, integrity and professionalism that has characterised everything she has done and achieved, both nationally and specifically within the Church of England."

Twenty-four hours after the announcement, the traditionalist Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, revealed that he would now accept the ordination of women as priests or bishops.

Bishop Sowerby expressed his change of heart in a letter of resignation from the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, which was set up to provide sacramental assurance and ministry for Anglo-Catholic opponents of women's ordination (News, 21 November 2014).

In a letter to the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, who chairs the Society's Council of Bishops, Bishop Sowerby wrote that he had made this decision after "a deal of soul-searching and with a deal of personal pain. . .

"I now believe I have to choose between traditional custom on the one hand and the Church of my baptism, confirmation, and ordination on the other," he said. "I recognise that the Society represents an attempt to reconcile my conflicted loyalties, but I cannot see how it can bring the two together in a way that I can hold with personal integrity."

He had to find sacramental communion with either the Society or the mainstream of the C of E, he writes, and separation from the Church had become "too much to bear".

"I have not forsaken my vocation to work for the eventual reconciliation of the Church of England with the greater communions of the Church," the letter continues. "I have, though, come to believe that the ecumenical conversation must take place between those communions and the mainstream Church of England rather than a Society with which it enjoys less than full eucharistic communion."

He acknowledged that his decision would cause hurt for many, but insisted that his "convictions must take me now along a somewhat different path".

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, is Bishop Sowerby's diocesan superior and a member of the Society. He said that Bishop Sowerby's change of heart would be a costly one. "We respect his honesty and applaud his courage," he said. "For some of those he serves it will be a development that they cannot follow, and that will be painful; for others, this news will be greeted with relief and considerable rejoicing."

Traditionalists who had looked to Bishop Sowerby for sacramental ministry will now be served by Dr Warner. Bishop Robinson said that he had received Bishop Sowerby's resignation with "great regret".

"I acknowledge the pain he feels in taking this step, and his regret at the pain it will cause for others," he said in a statement on the Society's website. "

In the mean time, Sir Philip Mawer, who oversees negotiations over women bishops between dioceses and parishes and priests who are opposed (News, 31 October 2014), has launched a consultation on how the disputes-resolution procedure will operate.

The document published includes the regulations made by the House of Bishops and Sir Philip's notes on how he intends to put them into practice. He has invited comment on the draft guidelines, which should be sent to Church House and reach him by 4 September.


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