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This expresses the Church’s unity, says Bishop North

06 February 2015

Diocese of York

Joyful: Dr Sentamu and Bishop North

Joyful: Dr Sentamu and Bishop North

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 was indicative of a jubilant atmosphere among the many bishops present.

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".

Inthe 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 Fr North's oath of canonical obedience, and delivering a sermon in which he suggested that nothing but a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church could save it from its "spiritual sluggishness, lethargy and motionlessness".

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 up-front role and proclaiming the Gospel," Bishop North said. "And that's a sign, really, of what we want, which is a Church . . . 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.

Speaking after the recessional hymn, "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."

Members of Forward in Faith were told at their National Assembly 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."

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 who had trained at St Stephen's House, Oxford. "I was very glad to see a traditionalist bishop being appointed," she said on Tuesday. "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. . .

"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: "It didn't feel peculiar, or exclusive, or like there was anything particularly strange going on. The Archbishop of York was very clearly 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."

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Pontefract, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, thanked Dr Sentamu for making the arrangements for the service.

"We trust that no one imagines that the flourishing of traditional Catholic ordinands could involve their being ordained by bishops whose sacramental ministry they cannot receive," he said.

 "If all the male bishops present had participated in the laying on of hands, the Bishop of Stockport - whose gracious presence we acknowledge with gratitude - would therefore have been alone in having to refrain from doing so. It would be difficult to see that as an expression of 'mutual flourishing'.

"Plainly, a future female Archbishop of York could not be the principal consecrator of a traditional Catholic bishop. By delegating that ministry to the Bishop of Chichester, Archbishop Sentamu has ensured that there need be no difference between his role on this occasion, and that of a future female archbishop. We hope that those who support the ordination of women as bishops will agree with us that any such distinction should be avoided."

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