Protected species

Sad though I was to miss the visit of the Queen to the parish on Monday to open the new fire station, I was very glad indeed to be in York for the consecration of Fr Philip North as Bishop of Burnley. He was with us as our preacher last All Saints’ Day and is the first member of the Company of Mission Priests to be made a Bishop in our 70 year history. The Minster was the scene for two consecrations within a week of each other. The first, the consecration of Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport received national tv coverage, but the consecration of Bishop Philip was for Anglo-Catholics of equally great importance.

What was important for us was the way in which he was consecrated. The Archbishop of York in an act of gracious generosity gave away the right to consecrate Philip. For someone in a position of power to give away that power is a powerful act in itself.  He ceded his authority to the Bishop of Chichester with the kiss of peace. Bishop Martin took the throne, and with the assistance of the Bishops of Pontefract and Beverley, consecrated Philip; the other bishops, including Bishop Libby, stood in a circle around them but without the usual rugby scrum of the laying on of hands.  

It was a most relaxed and Spirit-filled occasion. The commitment to mutual flourishing expressed at General Synod was proved to be true. The precedent for the consecration of future Anglo-Catholic bishops had been set. What was done in York on Monday could also be done by a future woman Archbishop of York or Canterbury.

The Anglo-Catholic movement has of late succumbed to an unusual bout of positivity, and long may it continue. We have passed through the long limbo period waiting for the legislation to enable women bishops. And we appear to have been accorded the status of a protected species like the rhino or the elephant.

All must accept that the Church of England has made the lawful decision to ordain women as bishops. However the church has declared that it remains committed to enabling those priests and parishes that cannot in conscience accept the priestly or episcopal ministry of women to flourish within its life and structures and will make pastoral and sacramental provision for us.

The Anglo-Catholic movement has been rather like Peter’s mother-in-law, at death’s door. We lost many priests after the vote to ordain women in 1992 and the foundation of the Ordinariate. Some have talked about the Anglo-Catholic experiment being over, but it is important that the church retains its traditionalist wing. Without us, the Church of England would be incomplete and no longer reflect the wide spectrum of Christianity  nor offer a model to the world of how Christians of all types can be part of one church.

The risen  Christ has raised us up through the working of the Holy Spirit. One sign of this is that we continue to attract men to be ordained as traditionalist priests, many of them quite young, some of whom have not known a Church of England without women priests.  Perhaps we have been pruned to the stem, to enable new growth.

'Now we can get on with mission', our Bishop Norman said to the Archbishop of York on Monday. Indeed we must. The Holy Spirit has given us a fresh opportunity to prove our worth. We all need to remain faithful to Christ, and keep him at the heart of all that we do. Christ came not just to preach where he was comfortable, he had to spread himself widely, and so must his church, so that we may share in the blessings of the gospel. 

We need to be gracious in our generosity, to forgo rivalry and quarrels for the sake of the gospel. The church has rarely conducted its disputes with dignity and in a Christ-like manner. But the ordination of women as bishops has been achieved in just such a way through a desire for mutual flourishing. We all need to do well.

St Paul emphasises the importance of self-emptying, giving up freedom, acting as a slave of the gospel in order to win over others. This is the way to resolve arguments. You will know of families and friendships riven by disputes that have been going on so long that the original cause is forgotten, where the moral high ground is disputed. Who started a dispute is not important, what matters is who will finish it. Christians may need to apologise even if they are not at fault, to diffuse a febrile situation. Just as Christ raised the mother-in-law of Simon Peter from her fever, so can we restore a relationship through a pricking of our pride, a self-emptying act of reconciliation and a commitment to finding solutions.  Mutual flourishing is our hope for the future.