I have been informed that the Right Reverend Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley, has notified the Prime Minister of his intention to withdraw from his nomination as Bishop of Sheffield.
Philip is a gifted and godly bishop with a passion and calling to serve the poor and those on the margins. In a time of uncertainty and change in our nation and the wider world, his has been a prophetic voice, calling the Church back to the command of Christ to serve the poor and the marginalised. In recent days in particular, we have heard time and time again of his inspirational effect on the Church in the Diocese of Blackburn among both lay and ordained, male and female. Bishop Philip is one of those within the Church of England who, ‘on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests’, there has been a strong reaction from a number of individuals within the Diocese of Sheffield and the wider Church of England, and this has ultimately led Bishop Philip to reconsider his nomination to the See of Sheffield. He has prayerfully concluded that, in such a climate, he would not be able to fulfil the central calling of a diocesan bishop, to be a focus of unity.
This is a personal decision which I understand and sadly accept. However what has happened to Bishop Philip clearly does not reflect the settlement under which, two and a half years ago, the Church of England joyfully and decisively opened up all orders of ministry to men and women. It also made a commitment to mutual flourishing: that those who ‘on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contribute to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.’
There will be continuing debate in the coming days and weeks of lessons to be learned, how that learning might inform and inspire us to act as a Church in our dealings with one another and how, when we disagree, to disagree Christianly, remembering at all times that our identity is in Christ alone.
It is now time – during this season of Lent – that the Church spends time in penitence, repentance and reflection. If we are serious about our commitment to loving one another and to mutual flourishing within the Body of Christ, there must now be time for us all to reflect and recognise in Bishop Philip’s own words ‘The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been hard. If as Christians we cannot relate to each other within the bounds of love, how can we possibly presume to transform a nation in the name of Christ? I hope though that this conversation can continue in future without it being hung upon the shoulders of one individual.’ I agree with him entirely.
I invite the Church to join me in prayer for the Bishop of Burnley, the Diocese of Blackburn in which he serves, and for the Diocese of Sheffield at this time.
Archbishop of York