THE incoming Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, is used to moving quickly.
Whenever a new episcopal nomination is announced, the short accompanying biography almost invariably includes the information that the new bishop is a “keen walker”. Just this year, the new incumbents of Bath & Wells and Liverpool are most likely to arrive on foot — as did the Bishop of Salisbury before his consecration (News, 24 June).
Dr Hartley, however, is a runner. “I use running to create space; I’ve often mulled tricky things over in my mind, or pondered a sermon. . . I even pray as I run sometimes,” she said in 2020, in an interview with the Harrogate news website The Stray Ferret which was conducted, appropriately, while out for a jog.
At 49, Dr Hartley will be the youngest diocesan bishop currently in the Church of England, though this is her third episcopal appointment, having served as the Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand before taking up her current role as Suffragan Bishop of Ripon in the diocese of Leeds in 2018.
Does her age give her a different perspective as she takes up the post? “I suppose it does, in as much as I’m possibly in this job for a couple of decades,” she said on Thursday afternoon, after the news of her announcement (News, 20 October).
“It enables me to look further forward, perhaps, in a way that, if I were nearing retirement, I wouldn’t be,” she said.
She was speaking during a brief lull in a day of introductions in her new diocese, which included getting on her hands and knees on the beach. “I’ve been building the walls of Jericho, and then knocking them down, with schoolchildren from Embleton,” she explained.
“It was great fun, and just seeing their confidence inhabiting their faith was inspiring—we’re trying to get a Church that’s young and more diverse, and I saw that today in all sorts of ways.”
Dr Hartley’s visit to a C of E primary school on the Northumberland coast came after a short service in Newcastle Cathedral, and a visit to a foodbank in the city.
“The normality of food banks is something that I find quite shocking,” she said. “There are people in full-time employment who need to use the foodbank, but also donations are down, which is understandable given the cost of living.”
She was inspired, though, to see how churches were responding to the challenge, and “pulling people forward into a vision of how the world can be, and addressing the reality while offering hope at the same time”.
As busy a first day in the diocese as it was for Dr Hartley, it didn’t compare to the action in Westminster, another place where she will also soon have a seat when she is elevated to the House of Lords. She could join the Lords as soon as January, perhaps even before her formal installation, but is keen to take her time in finding causes to champion.
“If I want to be a credible voice in the Lords, then I really need to know the diocese where I’m the bishop,” she said, and praised the work that the neighbouring Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has done in highlighting child poverty, especially in the north-east.
Her links to the region are strong, having grown up in Sunderland. “There’s a really deep sense of coming home in lots of ways,” she said on Thursday. “This is a region that that really shaped and formed me as a child growing up, and that that also shaped and nurtured my faith.”
While she might be returning to familiar north-eastern shores now, Dr Hartley’s first episcopal appointment was on the other side of the world, as the Bishop of Waikato, on New Zealand’s North Island, also known as Te Ika-a-Maui.
Her experience in the wider Anglican Communion has given her “broader reference points”, she suggested.
“Probably one of the one of the biggest things is having been in a part of the Communion where the Church is not the established Church. Coming back into the Church of England has sort of refreshed and reinvigorated my appreciation of the Church and its established role,” she said.
Dr Hartley also cited the blend of urban and rural, both in her diocese in New Zealand and in her current post in the diocese of Leeds, as another important reference point.
As one of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) Next Steps Group of bishops, Dr Hartley is involved in discussions about what measure should be brought to next February’s General Synod. “I’ve been really encouraged by the tone of those conversations, and they felt like proper conversations of listening and engagement,” she said on Thursday. The LLF process as a whole had, in her view, led to people having “better conversations about things they may disagree on”.
“Part of the role of a bishop is to try and keep people together, whilst always honouring the fact that the gospel does always lean towards the inclusion of those who are excluded or marginalised. We need to listen to that, and at the same time ensure that there can be no place for homophobia whatsoever in the Church going forward.”
Given her passion for running, it was fitting that Dr Hartley concluded with a metaphor of motion: “We move forward in hope, and I am hopeful.”