I’ve just attended the consecration of not one, not two, but three new bishops. All suffragans – two for Chelmsford and one for Lincoln.
If you’ve ever been to a consecration you’ll know that at the point in the service where the actual ordination takes place, the candidate(s) are surrounded by fellow Bishops, who join the Archbishop in the laying on of hands. It has strong New Testament references and has been an essential part of ordinations in churches of all traditions for centuries. But in the Anglican case, it is a very theatrical, visual moment. All the Bishops are robed in ‘convocation habit’ – bright red garments (rochet) with a white surplice (chimere) and black preaching scarf. So with perhaps thirty of them gathered round the candidates, in Christopher Wren’s huge space under the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s very dramatic. Especially when they all gather round with arms extended to join in the laying on of hands. St Paul’s official picture shows what I mean.
An all-bloke affair…
- How very odd it looked to have this huge phalanx of men standing around the candidates.
- That this is one of the last times a consecration will be what one person there described as ‘an all-bloke affair’.
On (1) the oddness was compounded by the way in which St Paul’s had a ‘platform party’ with Archbishop Justin consisting of a woman deacon and a woman sub-deacon. That kind of balanced platform team is now normal in most cathedrals I guess. And the various robed clergy who came in support of the candidates were completely mixed in gender – I spotted a female Dean and a Bishop’s Chaplain I know. So when it came to the main point of the service, for it to be an all-male affair just looked out of kilter with how the Church actually is now.
And then on (2) – well, there are one or two consecrations coming up soon (the new Bishop of Basingstoke, for example) which will remain all-male affairs. But if the legislative timetable for women Bishops works out as people say it will, they will be the tail end of something that people have taken for granted for centuries – that at a consecration, no women are involved. Things have moved on so much. Today it looked and felt very strange indeed.
Convocation = perspiration
I was there as a stand-in for the Prolocutor of the House of Clergy, and a privilege it is to represent the Convocation (clergy) of the Province of Canterbury in this way. (You do get a free lunch at Lambeth afterwards as well…) I got to process in with the Registrar of the Convocation of Canterbury, aka Stephen Slack, a well-known ecclesiastical legal figure. With him in legal robes and wig, and me in cassock, plain black academic gown and preaching tabs (convocation robes for non-Bishops), it was unbelievably hot. On the plus side, we had our own high-value verger – the Ostiarius – and we had front row seats under the Wren’s famous dome.
As I was fanning myself with my service book and cogitating on the male-ness and the end of an era, I looked up into the dome to see figures representing St Basil and St John Chrysostom looking down on us all. I wonder what they will make of the first mixed-gender consecrations next year?
Don’t forget the new Bishops!
For the record, the new Bishops are:
- Peter Hill: Barking
- Roger Morris: Colchester
- David Court: Grimsby
Say a prayer for them and their families as they settle into new homes, new ministries and new colleagues.
Oh, and we sang a lovely hymn by Herbert O’Driscoll that I did not know – The love of Jesus calls us. That might be just right for a service in Wells Cathedral sometime….
* A man needs a maid Neil Young, Harvest, 1972. Plaintive, masterful….