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
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
"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
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
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!