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Bishop of Lancaster: I cannot judge Welsh bishop

17 May 2024

Provincial autonomy trumps personal convictions about sexuality for Dr Duff at the consecration of the new Assistant Bishop of Bangor

Church in Wales

The new Assistant Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd David Morris, at his service of consecration on Saturday

The new Assistant Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd David Morris, at his service of consecration on Saturday

A RESPECT for provincial autonomy trumped personal convictions about sexuality last weekend, the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, explained this week, after she participated in the laying on of hands at the consecration of the new Assistant Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd David Morris.

Bishop Morris, who is 38, takes the title of Bishop of Bardsey and becomes the youngest ever bishop in the Church in Wales (News, 26 January). The service on Saturday morning, he said on Tuesday, was “incredibly joyful” with a “feel of celebration”.

“I felt particularly emotional when I emerged from the laying on of hands. It was powerful: you felt the weight of the episcopacy really resting on you,” he said.

“Then those hands lifted, and you stood up, and it was tremendously powerful, and the sense of prayer and movement of the Spirit was profound.”

Alongside her position in the diocese of Blackburn, Dr Duff is an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of St Asaph, and lives in north Wales. She has been an outspoken opponent of the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples in the Church of England. She also opposes changes that would enable clerics in the C of E to enter same-sex marriages.

There have never been any such restrictions on clergy in the Church in Wales. Bishop Morris is engaged to be married to his fiancé, Marc Penny.

On Tuesday, Dr Duff said that she had attended the service as a representative of the Church of England, after being asked to do so by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Her views on same-sex partnerships were unchanged, she said, but she “went in service and humility to honour the bishops” in Wales.

She said that there was a long history of English bishops “domineering” in Wales. This stretched back to the first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, and his treatment of Welsh Christians, including cursing Welsh bishops over a disagreement about the dating of Easter.

Dr Duff said that attending the service and participating in the prayers of consecration was something that she could do in “trying to find reconciliation and finding a positive way forward” in the relationship between the Provinces.

Asked whether she would participate similarly in the consecration of a bishop in the C of E who was in a same-sex marriage, she said that this would be “quite a different question” in her mind.

“Who am I, as an English bishop, to judge a Welsh bishop? But if I’m an English bishop, in an English jurisdiction, that feels quite a different thing to me,” she said.

Bishop Morris told the Church Times that he was “delighted” that Dr Duff had attended, and said that there had never been a suggestion that she wouldn’t take part in the laying on of hands.

“I sensed that she’d come to participate in the making of a new bishop in the way that any Church of England representative would, and didn’t think anything more of it, really,” he said.

On the question of the dynamics between the English and Welsh Churches, Bishop Morris was similarly unconcerned: “I guess those dynamics that may have existed at the time of Augustine, and potentially since, have perhaps not been as prevalent since 1920, when we disestablished. I’m not conscious of these things, but others might be.”

He said that he hadn’t been following the Living in Love and Faith process in England very closely, and that he was “not really politically minded in these things.

“I just want to be me, and get on with the job and concentrate on being the best bishop I can be, to serve as best I can the people entrusted to my care. I don’t really ever factor the issues of human sexuality into that, as some might who are perhaps a bit more political than I am.”

Bishop Morris was also the youngest priest to be ordained in the Church in Wales. Before his present appointment, he was Director of Ordinands in Bangor and a canon of the cathedral.

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