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Bishops from near and far see C of E enter ‘new stage’

30 January 2015


Smiles all round: above: Bishop Libby Lane after her consecration in York Minster on Monday. Standing behind her to the left of Dr Sentamu is her husband, the Revd George Lane.

Smiles all round: above: Bishop Libby Lane after her consecration in York Minster on Monday. Standing behind her to the left of Dr Sentamu is her hu...

IT WAS, the Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, said, a "wonderful and glorious morning". The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, described it as "a great day of rejoicing".

It was the day of the consecration of the Church of England's first woman bishop, the next Suffragan Bishop of Stockport. There were live broadcasts from York Minster on national TV and radio networks, and the hashtag "#BishopLibby" was trending on Twitter.

The service began, as all such services do, with a great procession of clergy, choir, legal officials, and dignitaries. But this was different. There were bishops from around the York province, and representatives from the wider Anglican Communion, including Ireland, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, and those whom Dean Faull described as the "intrepid travellers from the Southern Province of the C of E", including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, and Archbishop Welby, who took their places in the middle of the ranks of about 110 bishops.

The Presidents of the Methodist Conference and the Baptist Union, the Moderator of the United Reformed Church, and leaders representing the Moravian and Coptic Orthodox Churches were also present, as well as a congregation of more than 2000 clergy and laity.

Dr Sentamu said that the consecration of the Revd Libby Lane put her in a long line of women who had borne witness to Jesus Christ, dating back to St Mary Magdalene; but the service was not about Ms Lane, he said; it was, instead, "all about Jesus".

In the sermon, the Archdeacon of York, the Ven. Sarah Bullock, described God as the "midwife" who was bringing "into life a new stage of ministry".

She had been struck by a line in the Christmas edition of the BBC TV drama Call The Midwife, in which a character, Cynthia, was struggling with God's call in her life. "I don't understand this," Cynthia said. "Why does he want me? I have nothing to offer - so little to sacrifice in response to his love."

Archdeacon Bullock said that the character went on to realise that "when we offer ourselves to the living God, with all our failings, God blesses the offering." And there was no pecking order with God: whether it came from bishops or lay people, "God blesses the offering."

When the consecration was about to take place, Dr Sentamu asked the congregation: "Is it now your will that [Libby Lane] should be ordained?" A voice, later identified as that of the Revd Paul Williamson, Rector of St George's, Hanworth, a longstanding campaigner against the ordination of women, shouted "No! Not in the Bible."

He said: "With respect, Your Grace, I ask to speak on this absolute impediment, please."

In response, Dr Sentamu read a prepared statement that explained the legal processes that made the consecration lawful; and he reminded the congregation that, at the beginning of the service, the principal registrar of the province, Lionel Lennox, had read the Queen's mandate for the consecration. "There is no impediment in law in me obeying Her Majesty's command," Dr Sentamu said.

He repeated his question, and the congregation, twice as loud as before, replied: "It is."

"I'm really pleased that there was a voice of dissent," the Vicar of Blyth and Scrooby with Ranskill, the Revd Kate Bottley, said after the service, "but even more pleased that there were more than 2000 who shouted that [the consecration] was our will."

She made her comments outside the Minster as clergy, bishops, and laity celebrated the consecration. Earlier, after they had processed out, the bishops staged an impromptu "team photo". The new Bishop of Stockport took centre stage at the front, flanked by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Dr Sentamu, with Bishop Lane to his left, and her husband, the Revd George Lane, to his right, expressed his happiness by giving the photographers a double thumbs-up sign. Mr Lane is a chaplain at Manchester Airport.

Afterwards, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said that the service was "not the end of the journey for the Church of England, but a milestone on the way".

And the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that it was "a really very significant and symbolic day for the Church of England".

"There was a tremendous atmosphere of joy in the Minster this morning - hundreds of people; and, of course, it was only the tip of the iceberg," he said. "There will come a time when it will seem extraordinary that it was such a long time coming."

"I hope that people will be touched by all that has happened in the Minster today, and that it will speak not just of the consecration of a woman as a bishop, but of God's great love."

The Roman Catholic co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, said he would remember Bishop Lane in his prayers.

Interviewed on Vatican Radio, he noted the presence of women bishops already in the worldwide Anglican Communion, and said that, although the ordination of women presented challenges to the dialogue, this latest development "shouldn't affect the way in which the dialogue is continued".

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