A year ago I posted about what I thought might be one of the last ‘all-bloke affair’ consecrations of Bishops. Well, yesterday I was present in a formal, up-close-and-personal way at the Province of Canterbury’s first consecration of not one, but two female Bishops – Rachel Treweek and Dame Sarah Mullaly (You can read last year’s post here).
A seriously significant day!
Where York leads (having consecrated Bishops Libby Lane and Alison White earlier this year), Canterbury follows. But yesterday was seriously significant in that Rachel Treweek is the first woman to be made a diocesan Bishop – the others have been suffragans (loosely translated, assistant Bishops). And as such, she will automatically go into the House of Lords in the autumn, under the new arrangements made by Parliament. Thus there was renewed media interest (BBC Gloucestershire’s report is here, and Caroline Wyatt’s assessment of the difference women might make in the episcopate is here).
My eye-witness seat came about because I was standing in for the Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury who was unable to attend. So as pro-Prolocutor (how we love these odd titles!) I was in the procession that led the two candidates into the Cathedral, was seated close to the Archbishop and candidates, and saw much of the very moving two-hour ceremony from a privileged position.
My top moments
Being back in my former home cathedral (I was sponsored for ordination by Canterbury in, er, 1972)
- Seeing the faces of Bishops Rachel and Sarah as they came forward just before the moment of ordination
- Hearing the cry “we will!” echoing down that great Cathedral space when we were asked if we would support and encourage them in their ministry
- The prolonged applause (I mean that. It went on for ages…) after the consecration itself
- Bishop Adrian Newman’s sermon in which he encouraged future women bishops to ‘socialise’ and ‘subvert’ the church leadership of the future
- The cheering at the end (see below)
- The deacon for the Eucharist, the Revd Unesu Chindabata, a curate from the Isle of Dogs, only ordained deacon two weeks ago, finding herself assisting the Archbishop of Canterbury
Principles in action
As if to register that the ordaining and consecrating of Bishops is no longer an all-male ceremony, I saw amongst the crowd of fellow-bishops assisting Archbishop Justin at the laying-on-of-hands:
- Barbara Harris (the first woman ordained Bishop in the Anglican Communion as suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts 1989-2003);
- Cate Waynick (Bishop of Indianapolis)
- Helen-Ann Hartley (Bishop of Waikoato, New Zealand)
- Libby Lane (Bishop of Stockport)
Amidst all the warmth and affirmation, you have to remember that the Church of England contains, and honours, both those in favour of, and those unable to accept, for theological reasons, the ordination/consecration of women. So there was a nice touch for students of our ecclesio-politics and those who worry about the Five Guiding Principles governing our approach to working together. (You can read the Five Guiding Principles here.)
The Bishops of Chichester and London are both non-ordaining Bishops (to use the shorthand). Both were actively present, and the Bishop of London took a ‘speaking part’ in the liturgy – as Dean of the Province of Canterbury, he led the welcome to the newly-ordained Bishops. But at the moment of laying-on-of-hands they both stood just a pace back from the mass of Bishops actually reaching out to touch the candidates, and simply stood in prayer. So we had no ‘staying away’ from this historic event.
It’s not usually like this…
And then came the end. The newly-consecrated Bishops are, by tradition, led out by the Bishops, Cathedral Chapters and Archdeacons of their new diocesan posts. There was no standing and beaming cheerfully, as sometimes happens. There was no mild applause. Instead, there was a positive storm of applause, cheering, and even some whistling as they made their way through the Quire area, which was then renewed with even greater enthusiasm as we all processed down through the packed Nave to the West doors.
I heard a mutter from behind me in the procession: ‘It’s not usually like this.’ It felt like being in a football crowd, though I spotted tears in the eyes of one or two seasoned campaigners for the ordination of women who I recognised from General Synod.
Encourage the faithful
So, quite a day for us all. And we in Bath and Wells will be next in line, as we look forward to the consecration of Ruth Worsley as Bishop of Taunton in September. You can read about her appointment here.
Between now and then, plenty of planning to do, and plenty of prayers to offer for Bishops Rachel and Sarah as they move into their new spheres of life.
I saw her standing there, a very early Lennon/McCartney Beatles track from the Please Please me LP (1963). Not entirely accurate, as I saw them standing there in Canterbury, but sometimes you are a victim of your own choices of a blog post titling protocol…