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Rachel Treweek goes to Gloucester as C of E's first woman diocesan bishop

26 March 2015


Country air: Bishop-designate, the Ven. Rachel Treweek, at the Royal Agricultural University, in Cirencester, on Thursday 

Country air: Bishop-designate, the Ven. Rachel Treweek, at the Royal Agricultural University, in Cirencester, on Thursday 

GLOUCESTER is to have the Church of England's first woman diocesan bishop, it was announced on Thursday. 

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek, was introduced to the press at Harnhill Manor Farm, near Cirencester in the heart of the diocese.

The day before, the Church's second woman bishop had been announced. Canon Alison White is to be the Bishop of Hull. 

Archdeacon Treweek described herself as "surprised, and, I have to admit, even a little daunted by the prospect, but my overwhelming feeling is one of excitement to be coming to join with others in sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the people of this diocese."

Priested in 1995 after studying at Wycliffe Hall, she worked for 12 years as a parish priest in London, including seven years as the Vicar of St James the Less, Bethnal Green, before becoming Archdeacon of Northolt in 2006 and Archdeacon of Hackney in 2011.

Before ordination, she trained as a speech and language therapist, going on to work at the Royal Free Hospital. She is also trained in couples and family therapy.

During a press conference, she repeatedly drew on her experience in this field: "All people are beautiful, and throughout my time as a speech and language therapist I have learned so much from children who are severely disabled and them being as valued as everyone else."

Archdeacon Treweek has been a long-time champion of women's ministry, making regular speeches during legislative debates in the General Synod, which she joined in 2010. She was also an adviser to the House of Bishops working group on sexuality, which produced what became known as the Pilling Report ( News, 29 November, 2013).

Asked about the significance of her appointment as the first woman diocesan bishop, she said: "All through my life I have felt that it is very important that everyone can be the person they are called to be. . . My real hope is that, from this time on, that any child, any adult, will know that they can be the person that God is calling them to be. I hope that, whilst today is incredibly special, and I feel enormously humble to be here, that this will now become something very normal in the Church of England."

Reflecting on the numerical decline in the Church of England, she said: "This is not about trying to save an institution. . .This is about us joining in more confidently with what God is doing in saving the world and sharing the hope and love of Jesus Christ with the world. That has to be our starting point: not fear and anxiety, but hope and confidence in who Jesus is."

Greetings came in from around the world. The Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, said: "I'm thrilled for you, dear Rachel, and I'm thrilled for the Diocese of Gloucester, for the Church of England, for the Church of God, and for all of us. Yippee."

The Church of England's first woman bishop, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, Bishop of Stockport, described her as "exceptional . . . both genuinely caring and deeply insightful".

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said: "As Richard of Gloucester is reinterred, Rachel of Gloucester is revealed. As well as operating with great effectiveness from North West to East London, Rachel has been central to the story of growth in this diocese. 

"While we are very sorry to see her go, Gloucester has appointed someone with real quality and distinction."

The Archbishop of Canterbury also welcomed the news, saying on Twitter that it was "wonderful news for Christ's church".

The legislation which will fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords received Royal Assent on Thursday. The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, has announced that he will retire on 11 July. This means that Archdeacon Treweek can join the Bishops' bench in September.

She reminded the press that the announcement of her appointment was also the date when the Church remembers Harriet Monsell, a 19th-century Anglican nun, and the first Superior of the Community of St John the Baptist. She praised the sisters' work in caring for orphans, running schools and hospitals, and opening mission houses.

Archdeacon Treweek spent the rest of the day visiting a school, prison and hospice.

"It is my profound hope that the love of God expressed by Harriet Monsell and others will continue to be found in this diocese, in its people and its work in the months and years to come," she said. 


by Madeleine Davies

THE Church of England is being "sharpened up" by its untrendiness, and has found its voice again, its second woman bishop said this week. 

Canon Alison White, named as the next Bishop of Hull on Wednesday, found inspiration in the city's successful City of Culture bid to express her confidence in the Church's mission: "The video made for the Hull City of Culture bid has a great phrase I want to borrow: 'We've found our voice again.' And I believe we have something worth saying."

"We are at a very interesting point in the Church's life at the moment. . . Because, in some ways, it is not a very trendy thing to be a person of faith, to be a Christian, actually I think that sharpens us up, and makes us think: 'What are the treasures we have got?'"

An Honorary Canon Theological at Sheffield Cathedral since 2010, Mrs White is currently Priest-in-Charge of St James's, Riding Mill, in the diocese of Newcastle, where she is also diocesan adviser for spirituality and spiritual direction. She has previously worked as a diocesan adviser in local mission in Durham, and as a Springboard Missioner. In her new position, she will have diocesan-wide responsibility as an "ambassador for prayer, spiritual and numerical growth, and for urban life and faith".

Statistics suggest that church attendance in York is in decline, in line with the Church nationally. Asked whether she felt daunted by her responsibility for reversing this decline, she said: "I would be a lot more daunted if it was numerical growth alone, as that sounds like recruitment, and I don't think we are in the business of recruitment. But if we can love God more, and listen more carefully, and pray more deeply and more confidently, I think we will see that surprising things happen when God's people pray. . . "

The call to the episcopate was the latest in a series of surprises, she said. "I thought I was the most unlikely kind of person to be ordained by God. God, and other faithful people have seen it differently, so I am trusting that they are right."

She served her curacy as a non-stipendiary minister at Chester-le-Street, Durham, before becoming director of mission and pastoral studies at Cranmer Hall, and then diocesan director of ordinands. Asked about the position of women in the Church, she said: "I think we are going step by step into this. Women are the Church, just as men are the Church, and we need to find out how we do that better. . . I can't say that I think there are particular, generic challenges. I think we work on building relationships."

Canon White is married to the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Frank White.

"This may seem excessive," she joked in a message on the York diocesan website. "You would think that one in a family is more than enough. Believe me, this has crossed our minds. Actually, I am married to Frank, and that is gift." Her husband said on Wednesday that she would be "an outstanding bishop".

They will move to Hull.

Question of the week: Can Christians be trendy?

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