“GOD is a God of surprises,” the Bishop-designate of Newcastle, the Ven. Christine Hardman, said, as she was announced as the second woman diocesan bishop in the Church of England on Tuesday.
Bishop-designate Hardman, who was the prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury for the past five years, said that she had been “devastated” when the first women bishops vote failed in the General Synod in 2012 (News, 23 November 2012).
“I wasn’t happy with the shape of that legislation, but I was devastated when it fell because of the perception people in the country at large would have of the Church of England,” she said. But she felt called to continue working on the issue, which led to the second successful vote last year and enabled her own elevation to the House of Bishops.
“My vocation felt to be at work on that legislation to the point where the C of E welcomes women and men to be bishops in the same way. Expectations for myself did not come into it. God is a God of surprises.”
Bishop-designate Hardman was Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich for 11 years from 2001. In 2012, she stepped down to a position as an honorary assistant priest at Southwark Cathedral, but she rejected the suggestion that she was coming out of retirement to become a bishop.
“I stepped back from being Archdeacon, but nobody who has been involved in my life since then has felt that I haven’t been involved in the life of the Church,” she said. As well as her position on the synod, she has also been a member of the Archbishops’ Council.
She said that the Church had been transformed since the passing of the women-bishops package and, in particular, in the five guiding principles agreed by the House of Bishops. “We are in such a different place now. We have found a way to live together and work together . . . to [seek for] the highest possible degree of communion.”
The next likely flashpoint for the Synod currently being elected will be over same-sex marriage and sexuality, once the shared conversations currently being rolled out throughout the dioceses are completed.
Bishop-designate Hardman said that she was hopeful that the Church would learn from the bruising debates over women bishops when it came to discuss sexuality. “I hope we will all reflect on that and take forward the positive things that have happened in understanding ways in which we are going to remain together as a Church, albeit with divergent views.”
She would not be drawn on her own views, saying only that on her first day in her new job she was focusing on “excitement for all that I hope for in this diocese”. Speaking from a C of E academy in Newcastle where the press conference which announced her as the next Bishop of Newcastle was held, she explained that among her priorities as bishop would be education.
“C of E schools are at the forefront of transforming children’s lives. I want this diocese to live out the truth that every single person is valued. I want to see this diocese doing everything we can to bring the good news of Christ to people, and see that transformation.”
Bishop-designate Hardman, who is 64, is married to Roger and has two children and four grand-children. Before becoming Archdeacon, she was a priest in Stevenage and director of mission studies at the Oxford Ministry Course.
She holds an economics degree and is interested in connecting the world of economics and Christian faith. In her spare time, she enjoys cycling, running, and the theatre. As a diocesan bishop, she will be eligible to follow the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, and join the House of Lords.
The next Lord Spiritual who is due to step down is the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, who retires at the end of this month. To take his place, Bishop-designate Hardman’s election must have been confirmed by that date. Otherwise, the longest-serving male diocesan bishop is next in line.