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This shows there’s a future for us, says new traditionalist Bishop

03 February 2015


EMERGING through the great west door of York Minster to be photographed, flanked by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, and the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, the new Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, reflected on a "wonderful expression of the unity of the Church".

Consecrated on Monday, exactly a week after Bishop Lane, Bishop North is the first traditionalist bishop to be appointed since the passing of the women-bishops Measure. His laughter with her on the steps - both were beaming in the winter sun - was indicative of a jubilant atmosphere among the many bishops present.

After receiving a long line of people seeking his blessing (and at least one selfie), the new Bishop spoke first of unity.

"We had all the bishops together, including Bishop Libby, gathered around in prayer for the Holy Spirit, and I got a real sense of the unity of the Church, and of the precedents that have been set this last week: eight extraordinary days in York Minster, which have seen the consecration, to great joy amongst many Anglicans, of the first woman, and then what's happened today, which has shown that there's a future for those who in good conscience can't accept that development."

The appointment of a traditionalist bishop had been "essential" for Anglo-Catholics, he said: "The thing that traditionalists need . . . is a line of bishops to whom they have access, and this is a very beautiful covenant that the Archbishops have made with the Church, that wing of the Church, to show that those promises will be honoured."

At the beginning of the service, the Archbishop reiterated his explanation that he would delegate the consecration itself to the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, with a reminder that this decision was "mine, and mine alone".

In the Yorkshire Post that morning, Dr Sentamu wrote: "I find no validation for the majority to overrule the theological convictions of a minority or triumph over them. . . It is my prayer that the Church of England's gracious magnanimity, restraint and respect for theological convictions on this matter may help others to substitute love for fear and hope for despair."

Dr Sentamu conducted the first part of the service, receiving Bishop North's oath of canonical obedience, and delivering a sermon in which he suggested that the Church was suffering from a "crisis of powerlessness". Nothing but a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit could save it from its "spiritual sluggishness, lethargy and motionlessness", he said.

He then delegated the liturgy of ordination to Dr Warner, who was invited to preside from the primatial chair, and lay hands on Fr North, together with the Bishops of Beverley and Pontefract.

The deacon at the service was the Assistant Curate in the Moulsecoomb Team, the Revd Alice Whalley, who served as a pastoral assistant in Bishop North's London parish before he sponsored her for ordination.

"It was good to have a woman very visible in that liturgy, in a very upfront role and proclaiming the Gospel," Bishop North said. "And that's a sign really of what we want, which is a Church where we can push communion absolutely to the maximum and where our unity as God's people outweighs any differences that may be between us."

The assent to the ordination and consecration from the congregation was resounding. After the presentation of the episcopal ring by Dr Sentamu, the welcome was followed by a long round of applause.

The nave was packed. There were students from St Stephen's House in their black-and-red college scarves, and the Guardians of the Shrine of Walsingham in their insignia and blue velvet mantles. Many bishops from both Provinces were in attendance.

Speaking after a hearty rendition of the recessional hymn on Monday - "Sing we of the blessed Mother" - Dr Warner described the day as "a wonderful expression of putting into practice the five Guiding Principles which are at the heart of the House of Bishops' declaration. . . I think it has renewed our hope and confidence for sharing the gospel and turning our attention to the world to share with others the good news revealed of God in Jesus Christ."

Members of Forward in Faith were told recently that "For the first time in over 25 years, we won't be entering [the General Synod] elections labelled as being anti-everything. Let's take up the opportunity to be constructive, positive, and let's be proud of who we are ( News, 30 January)"

Asked about these comments, Bishop North said: "We are for proclaiming Jesus in the midst of his people. Therefore, we're with the poor and the oppressed and the forgotten; we are with local people in local churches seeking after Jesus in the eucharist: that's what we're for."

The Assistant Curate of Christ Church, Belper, the Revd Imogen Black, was among a large contingent of priests present who had trained at St Stephen's House, Oxford. She describes herself an Anglo-Catholic who is "very close to traditionalists in many ways, apart from fact that I believe that women can be ordained".

"I was very glad to see a traditionalist bishop being appointed," she said after the service. "I think it's been an upsetting time for everyone, with all the arguments about women being ordained and consecrated bishops, so it's been affirming for everyone to see Bishop Libby consecrated and then someone from the other integrity, because it shows the Church of England is committed to working with both views, as it said it would. . . 

"Traditionalists can feel vulnerable, particularly when all this is very new and we have to see it play out in practice, so it is a comfort to see someone well-liked and respected being made bishop at this time."

Speaking after the service, the Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh, Chaplain at Durham University and a member of the Board of Affirming Catholicism, said: "I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it didn't feel peculiar, or exclusive, or like there was anything particularly strange going on. The Archbishop of York very clearly was in charge, and there were more women stood at the altar than there were last week. It doesn't mean there are no theological issues or questions left hanging, but it actually seemed fine in the event. If this is what it takes for us all to flourish, then I think I can live with it."

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