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Lumpy liturgy, but Bishop Lane is lauded

30 January 2015

AFTER all these years of waiting, I found the consecration of the Church of England's first woman bishop rather anticlimactic. It didn't quite work as history, since it had been so well trailed; and as ritual, or theatre, it was not as smooth as it might have been.

This was not so much the interruption by the Revd Paul Williamson, although that did grab a lot of attention in the early reports. It had obviously been foreseen, and the Arch-bishop of York, Dr Sentamu, had a prepared spiel, but that was all in legalese, which both jarred with most of the rest of the ceremony and rather missed the point of the objection, which was that the Bible was opposed to this innovation.

I don't doubt Fr Williamson was wrong, but the squelching the intervention merited came from the same biblical tradition, not from statute law. It was a missed rhetorical oppor*tunity, which is unlike the Archbishop of York.

The liturgy, too, had lumps in it: some prayers had "thee", and some had "you", and the transitions jarred, at least to me. So did the change between the work of the choir and that of the amplified singer and musicians. Both, separately, were wonderful, but so are Turkish delight and caviar, if eaten separately.

Perhaps the real problem was that the journalists present had all written this story in anticipation so many times before (though none of us expected Fr Williamson). Short of the flames of Pentecost descending on the altar, there was nothing that could have lived up to the advance billing, and the sense that it meant a huge amount more to the people within the Minster than the vaguely curious huddles in the cold outside.

A historical development in a national Church ought to electrify the nation, or at least give it a vague buzz, much as you get from licking a nine-volt battery. This needed jump-starting.

THE Telegraph did its best, with a picture across the width of the front page. John Bingham's live report on the web, though, led on Fr Williamson's efforts, was an inter-esting example of the way in which news gets reported in a distorting fashion even by people who know much better. It it always the unex-pected that leads, provided it is not too unexpected.

In the Times story, written later, the protest was a mere footnote, and an "Anglo-Catholic" one at that: in the Telegraph he had been "an ally of the late Ian Paisley". The main news was: "A standing ovation and more than a minute of rapturous applause marked the consecration of the Church of England's first female bishop yesterday.

"The Rev Libby Lane was welcomed as the new suffragan Bishop of Stockport after a highly unusual ceremony in York Minster, in which at least 40 bishops [huh? There were more than 100 everywhere else] gathered to 'lay hands' on their new colleague, marking her acceptance into the line of apostolic succession stretching back to St Peter.

"The Archbishop of York anointed her and the entire congregation rose to its feet and applauded for more than a minute. 'That's what I call liturgical fun,' the Most Rev John Sentamu said."

The Mail Online published the most astonishing photograph of Archbishop Welby as he walked into the cathedral: he glares at the photographer like a KGB boss wondering whether 25 years is too lenient a sentence. It can hardly be called flattering, but it was a side of his character which I have never glimpsed before, though obviously it must exist. It makes him extremely hard not to like.

IN AN uncharacteristically generous mood, The Guardian even praised the Revd Philip North before his forthcoming consecration, though attacking the arrangements for laying hands on him (or not) as showing that the Church had "one foot in the 21st century and a rump in the fifth".

This may have been a rather parochial view of religious misogyny. The New York Times carried an astonishing report of the work of a sex therapist among the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York. There was an account of a fair for eight- or nine-year-old girls "that featured a life-size diorama of a mother bathing her daughter eternally in boiling water - a punishment for some undisclosed failure of physical modesty".

But the detail that got my eyeballs twirling was wholly domestic: apparently, if there is any doubt whether a woman is menstruating, her underwear is bagged up by her husband and passed to the rabbi to judge. How revolutionary Jesus's unshocked attitude towards women must have seemed to his contemporaries!

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