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Bishop Philip North to succeed Bishop Henderson at Blackburn

10 January 2023

Diocese of Blackburn

Bishop North with the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff

Bishop North with the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff

THE next Bishop of Blackburn is to be the Rt Revd Philip North, Suffragan Bishop of Burnley in the diocese, Downing Street announced on Tuesday morning.

Bishop North has been nominated to succeed the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, who retired in the summer (News, 11 March 2022).

In a statement, Bishop North said: “I believe with all my heart that God has called me to carry Jesus across Lancashire, to bear witness to his love and peace here in this county. I have done that for the past eight years as Bishop of Burnley, and I will go on doing that as Bishop of Blackburn.”

He identified the priorities for his ministry: the growth of the Church of England in Lancashire, amplifying the Church’s voice for justice, particularly for the poor, and putting children at “the very heart of all that we do”.

The Archbishop of York highlighted Bishop North’s links with the region and ministry with the poor, saying: “Bishop Philip comes to this new role already knowing and loving the diocese of Blackburn. He respects and understands the diversity of the diocese and is committed to growing a church where all can flourish both ordained and lay alike. As an evangelist, he will also strive to share the Christian faith with others. As a friend of the poor, he will be a voice for the most hard pressed and excluded in our society.”

In 2017, Bishop North was nominated as the Bishop of Sheffield, but he withdrew his acceptance after a campaign of opposition based on his position on the ordination of women (News, 9 March 2017).

A review of the failed appointment, conducted by Sir Philip Mawer, concluded that further theological and pastoral work needed to be done on the Five Guiding Principles, which were introduced in 2014 in an effort to secure “mutual flourishing” in the Church of England (News, 15 September 2017).

In the ensuing report, Bishop North clarified that his opposition to the ordination of women was founded on a belief that the Church of England is “part of the one holy catholic Church of God and that imposes limits on what it can and can’t decide unilaterally”.

He emphasised that “the nature of my objection does not cause me to doubt the validity of those orders that the Church of England bestows on female candidates and I hold their ministry to be transformative and grace-filled. I also accept that there are two legitimate, theological views in the Church on this and so am very happy to sponsor female candidates for ordination” (News, 15 September 2017).

The Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, described herself to be “delighted and relieved” at Bishop North’s appointment. In a statement, she said: “I have found much joy in serving alongside Philip as a fellow suffragan bishop for the last five years. He has inspired me, encouraged and greatly supported me.

“I believe that Philip is called for such a time as this to lead the Diocese of Blackburn, cherishing the diversity of opinion, theology and background that our county has always welcomed. He loves to see others flourish and find their voice — especially young people and those on the margins.”

The appointment has drawn criticism from the campaign group Women and the Church (WATCH). A statement released shortly after the announcement of Bishop North’s appointment said: “We recognise Bishop Philip’s many gifts and are aware that he has been supportive of women in a range of ministerial posts in the Church, some at senior levels. Nonetheless, Bishop Philip does not recognise the ordination of women as priests and bishops. . . In that light, WATCH cannot support the nomination.”

Bishop North trained for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and served his title at St Mary the Virgin, Sunderland. He was ordained priest in 1993, and in 1996 became Vicar at Holy Trinity and St Mark’s, Hartlepool.

In 2002, he was appointed Priest Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, before being appointed Team Rector of the Old St Pancras Team Ministry, in the diocese of London, in 2008.

In 2012, he withdraw his acceptance of as Suffragan Bishop of Whitby, in the diocese of York, saying that opposition on the grounds of his position on the ordination of women meant that he “would not be a focus of unity” (News, 17 December 2012).

He was consecrated for the see of Burnley three years later, in 2015, and is a member of the College of Bishops of The Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda.

Bishop North’s installation is expected to take place in Blackburn Cathedral in May or June this year.

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