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In Defense of Bp. North


The Rt. Rev. Philip North, Suffragan Bishop of Burnley, is under pressure to decline his appointment as Bishop of Sheffield, but the Archbishop of York and dozens of ordained women have defended him.

North declined an appointment in December 2012 as Bishop of Whitby (Diocese of York) when his opposition to ordaining women as priests created conflict. In November 2014, he was appointed to Burnley, a part of the Diocese of Blackburn with a strong traditionalist presence.

Leading the campaign against North is the Very Rev. Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

“He cannot in his conscience recognize, value, and affirm the sacramental integrity of one third of his clergy,” Percy said of North. “Such a position has no integrity. He will be the cause of division, and cannot bring unity.”

The Archbishop of York supported the appointment in a Feb. 25 article in The Yorkshire Post.

“Women clergy in the Diocese of Sheffield will not only be accepted, but will be encouraged, inspired, and furthered in their ministry by their new Diocesan Bishop,” Archbishop John Sentamu wrote. “However, there remain those who question the integrity both of the agreement reached by the Church of England, and of Philip North himself. And that simply won’t do.”

Ordained women in Sheffield have expressed support for Bishop North.

The Rev. Eleanor Robertshaw, team rector of the Parish of Great Snaith, said she was saddened by calls for North to decline the appointment.

“If a woman had been appointed to Sheffield, and traditionalists had called for her to rescind the appointment, then many women and men, ordained and lay, would have been outraged,” she said. “We have to expect that we will also have traditionalist bishops; otherwise, how is everyone flourishing? … I firmly believe that God has called Philip North to this diocese because he has the right skills to lead us into the future.”

In a Church Times letter, 32 ordained women in the Diocese of Blackburn wrote that “in the two years he has been here he has worked incredibly hard to make sure that all people feel more than included in the life of the diocese. … He has created a real buzz about the diocese, and we view the prospect of his departure with sadness.”

In 1995, the Church of England appointed two Provincial Episcopal Visitors (often called “Flying Bishops”) to look after the pastoral needs of parishes that do not accept episcopal oversight from bishops who ordain women. Local arrangements have evolved to provide oversight of traditionalist parishes.

London developed a plan in which such parishes may accept oversight from the Rt. Rev. Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham.

In 2010, as General Synod moved toward welcoming women to the episcopate, the Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda was formed to provide alternative episcopal oversight for traditionalists in the Church of England. Bishop North is a member of the Society and its parent organization, Forward in Faith. The Society provides oversight to about 400 parishes.

More recently, the Rt. Rev. Rod Thomas, a conservative evangelical, became Bishop of Maidstone (Diocese of Canterbury) with a mandate to serve that constituency.

Bishop North’s institution service is scheduled for June at York Minster.


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