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Former Chief Nursing Officer to be first woman Bishop of London

18 December 2017

Max Colson

Central line: Bishop Sarah Mullally travels on the Tube on Monday

Central line: Bishop Sarah Mullally travels on the Tube on Monday

THE next Bishop of London will be the Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, Downing Street an­­nounced on Monday.

Bishop Mullally, who was elevated to the episcopate only in 2015 (News, 12 June 2015), will be installed as the diocese of London’s first woman bishop at St Paul’s Cathedral in the new year.

Speaking at a press conference at the Chapter House of St Paul’s immediately after the announcement, Bishop Mullally said that she was “delighted and slightly terrified” at her nomination, which was a tribute to the Church’s commitment to greater diversity.

“If our churches are to be more relevant to our community, this means that we need churches that are led by priests who are women, who come from black, Asian, and ethnic minority groups,” she said.

She acknowledged that her nom­ination — as a woman bishop — might be difficult for traditionalists to accept. “One of the wonderful things about London and its churches is that it reflects the diversity of the Church, and I am very respectful of those who, for theological reasons, cannot accept my role as a priest or a bishop.

“My belief is that church diversity throughout London should flourish and grow: everybody should be able to find a spiritual home; and those who minister should be able to do so to the best of their ability.”

Before ordination, Bishop Mullally served as a cancer nurse in London, then as a senior civil servant in the Department for Health, eventually becoming the youngest ever Chief Nursing Officer in 1999. She was ordained in 2001, and served as a self-supporting minister until 2004 in south London (Back Page Interview, 23 January 2009).

“I have lived and worked for more than 30 years in London, my children went to school in the diocese, and there is a sense that I am returning, which brings great joy,” Bishop Mullally said.

She was appointed Dame Com­mander of the British Empire in 2005 for services to nursing and midwifery, a year after she took up full-time paro­chial ministry. After working as Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathed­ral from 2012, she became Bishop of Crediton, in the diocese of Exeter, two years ago.

“People often ask me what it has been like to have two careers. . . I feel that I have had one vocation, and that has been to follow Christ and make him known,” she said. “There are many similarities about nursing and being a priest — not least the wearing of starched collars and hats — but it being about people, compassion, and service.

“It is with that sense of service that I come to serve London, those of faith and of no faith.”

Despite its diversity, however, the capital is also rife with inequality, she warned. “People feel marginalised, voiceless, and angry. Those were some of the emotions felt last week as people gathered for the Grenfell national memorial service. People of faith and no faith stood with the bereaved, and those who survived. That wonderful image of unity does not mean that some of those issues have been solved.”

Max Colson“Rife with inequality”: Bishop Mullally visiting a foodbank in Hoxton, east London, on Monday

Bishop Mullally indicated that she would strive to complete the work of her predecessor, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, in increasing the number of church-plants in the diocese of London, fulfilling the C of E target, under the Renewal and Reform pro­gramme, to have 100 new wor­shipping communities in the city by 2020. “We are almost there,” she said, citing the work of Holy Trinity, Brompton, and St Helen’s, Bishops­gate, as advocates of church-planting and growth.

St Helen’s offered its congrat­ulations to Bishop Mullally in a Twitter post: “The Church of Eng­land is committed to ‘mutual flour­ish­ing’. We look forward to Bishop Sarah working for this within the diocese of London.”

It came after the Rector, the Revd William Taylor, announced earlier this month that the church would not be taking part in certain deanery activities, because it had an “impaired relationship” with the deanery chapter over its own refusal to “agree to disagree” over same-sex marriage (News, 15 December).

When questioned about her views on human sexuality, Bishop Mullally said: “The Church of England is clear in its teaching of marriage and I support that. It is a time for us to reflect on our tradition and scripture, and together say how we can offer a response that is about it being inclusive love.”


The Rector of St Helen’s, the Revd William Taylor, declared that the church was in an “impaired relation-ship” with the deanery chapter over its own refusal to “agree to disagree” about same-sex marriage (News, 15 December).

Bishop Mullally is a member of the Bishops’ reflection group on sexual­ity, which was formed last year to guide the next stage of the Church of England’s debate on same-sex rela­tions (News, 23 September 2016).

When questioned about her views on human sexuality on Monday, Bishop Mullally said: “The Church of England is clear in its teaching of marriage, and I support that. It is a time for us to reflect on our tradition and scripture, and together say how we can offer a response that is about it being inclusive love.”

Clergy well-being was also on her agenda, as was safeguarding. “In God, I have found a refuge, a safe place, a place of security, and I believe the Church should reflect the love of Christ, which is why, for me, safeguarding is at the heart of the Gospel. I will not only take my responsibility of safeguarding seriously, but I will continue to see that we have a culture which is safe, where there is no place for abuse.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said in a statement: “Bishop Sarah brings to this remarkable ministry in this great city an extraordinary experience and profound gifts which are guided by her faith in Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of all that she is.

“In her calling as a Bishop she has demonstrated that she is a shepherd of God’s people, a guardian of the Christian faith and someone with a passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others through her teaching and her actions. . .

“As a Bishop in the wider Church of England, she has had a particular care for survivors of abuse. Under the overall leadership of the Bishop of Bath and Wells (the lead Bishop on Church of England safeguarding) she will continue to have an emphasis on this aspect of her ministry.

“As one of the first woman consecrated as a bishop in the Church of England, she has not only blazed a trail for others but lived out the principles of mutual flourishing and acceptance which I know will continue to bear fruit in London.”

Max ColsonBishop Mullally meets students at the Urswick School in Hackney  

In a blog post, the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Millar, a traditionalist, wrote: “The question is, can there be a place for traditionalists (and conservative evangelicals) in the mainstream life of the Church of England, or is it in fact the case that the structures set up and agreed by the church for us all to flourish are actually not workable?

“I think and believe the honoured place in the mainstream which has been our hope to establish is possible to maintain, and that the appointment of Bishop Sarah to London gives a further opportunity to show that it can be done. If it can, the way can be open to more appointments of people of all views and an effective challenge offered to those who would attempt to create ‘no go’ areas on either side of the debate.”

A statement from Forward in Faith said: “The Crown Nominations Commission will have been conscious that, in a diocese in which so many are unable, for theological reasons, to receive the sacramental ministry of women as bishops (including the ministry of ordination), this nomination will result in a deeper impairment of communion.

“Faithful to the Five Guiding Principles adopted by the Church of England in 2014, we remain committed to maintaining the highest degree of communion that is still possible in these changed circumstances, while being realistic about its limits. . .”

A survivor of clerical child-abuse, Gilo, said in a statement: “I think survivors will hope this represents a long overdue turning point. As third most senior bishop, Dame Sarah Mullally can now take a far more decisive role in championing a compassionate and just response with real structural reformation at last.”


‘I won’t be accepted by everyone’

Peter HancockPosted: newspaper billboards spotted in London by the Bishop of Bath & WellsTHE next Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, says that she would be naïve to think that her nomination to the see this week would not cause a backlash, given that people did not expect her appointment.

Bishop Mullally was speaking after an introductory tour of a food­bank, a school, and an inter­faith forum in London, on Monday, when her nomination was announced.

“When I was appointed in the diocese of Exeter, it is fair to say that there were, and still are, people there who cannot accept my min­istry as a woman and a bishop.

“I am also conscious that people did not expect a woman, and so may not have thought about it. Over the coming months, people will reflect on it, and, for me, it is about meet­ing with those people and reassur­ing them that, together, we can ensure that their ministry flourishes, and that we respect their position.”

She will also have to negotiate the London Plan (revised in 2016), which allows the Bishop of London to delegate duties, including the ordination and licensing of clergy in the diocese, to other bishops. Under the plan, her two immediate pre­decessors did not ordain priests, male or female. She, however, will.

“Before my appointment, the College of Bishops did consider the London Plan, and felt that it would work whether a man or a woman was appointed,” Bishop Mullally says. “Our belief is that . . . the London Plan is fit for purpose.

“In terms of working that out, which we will do over the coming months, the truth is we don’t have all the answers; but I am very respectful of those who cannot except my ministry, and I do believe that we have an opportunity in the diocese to be a gift to the rest of the Church to show how we can enable people to flourish.”

Speaking of her career before ordination, she says: “You can take the nurse out of nursing but never nursing out of the nurse: I have a pastoral heart, and that sense of compassion, and having worked in the Department of Health — a very complex organisation with respons­i­bility for nursing across England — has been very good formation.

“I was a Christian at that time. The way I led is the way I lead today. Of course, there is masses to learn. I will want to work with my colleagues, and I am almost certain that they will teach me; but I have the skills and the gifts, and that sense of God calling me forward.”

The NHS also taught her how to cope with stress, she says. “Ministry is stressful. Maybe fortunately, for me, right from the beginning of my nursing training, I had to be con­scious of my own well-being.

“One of the added values of the London diocese is the large population and number of clergy: we can provide the support and ministerial development, the pastoral help to ensure clergy are best equipped to manage what are quite demanding and difficult situations.

“If the clergy are not supported, they cannot be confident in what they are doing, and they cannot encourage their congregations to flourish.”

On the subject of safeguarding, she believes that some progress has been made. “But I also know, talking to survivors, that we are not moving fast enough for them, and I understand that impatience; but I have always said that I would remain committed to seeing the recommendations of the Elliot report through.”

She will also use her position in the House of Lords to address concerns of Londoners about Brexit. “There are a lot of people in London who are now uncertain about their future, and we do need to provide certainty for people.”

Listen to the full interview with Bishop Sarah Mullally on the Church Times Podcast


Listen to Bishop Mullally speak at the press conference at St Paul’s Cathedral


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