The Archbishop of York speaking at St Batholemew’s Armley, March 3, 2004
‘Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ’ (Eph: 4.15)
It is that great expert in matters ecclesiastical, Anthony Trollope who describes in one of his novels the work of a bishop. One of his characters in Framley Parsonage asks – ‘And what does the Bishop do?’ – to which the response is made ‘He sends forth to his clergy either blessings or blowings up according to the state of his digestive organs.’ Well, in the more leisured days of old and when bishops really did enjoy the wealth, the status and the lavish lifestyle of their Office something of that may well have been true. I think however I prefer to stay with Augustine – ‘With you I am a Christian … for you I am a Bishop’. But then for every bishop as with Bishops John and Martyn the tenth anniversary of whose episcopal consecrations we celebrate today the starting-point must surely be the Ordinal where the work and office of a Bishop is spelt out in some detail. ‘As chief pastor he shares with his fellow bishops a special responsibility to nurture and further the unity of the Church, to uphold its discipline and guard its faith.’ The Bishop is ‘to teach and govern after the example of the apostles … he is to lead the offering of prayer and praise … to speak in the name of God and interpret the Gospel of Christ’. No wonder the Book of Common Prayer describes the Ordained Ministry in terms both of excellency and of difficulty – of the ‘weightiness’ of that to which those ordained both priest and bishop are called, and therefore of the need for constant and fervent prayer.
Above all there is that small but telling and compelling phrase which personally always strikes a chord with me and for me – ‘The Bishop is to know his people and be known by them’.
And we can certainly testify that both Bishops John and now Martyn have well discharged this aspect of their ministry as well as so many others in the course of their episcopate. They have between them travelled an inordinate number of miles as they journey weekly, even daily, from North to South from East to West across the whole of this Northern Province.
It is a very happy and propitious concurrence therefore that today we join with both of them in celebrating their ten years of episcopal ministry in this Province, Bishop Martyn having first been appointed to the most ‘convenient’ Suffragan See of Burnley in the Diocese of Blackburn and Bishop John to the Suffragan See of Beverley within the Diocese of York.
The consecration of Bishop John Gaisford, however, marked a significant development for the Church of England in that he was the first to be ordained under the provisions of the Act of Synod made in conjunction with the decision to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood. Bishop Martyn Jarrett, as it happens, was also the first bishop opposed to the ordination of women to be appointed following the vote. And whilst the Act of Synod has had and continues to have its critics and in spite of its anomalies and in some places its contentious working out, it has, I believe, served the Church of England remarkably well in seeking to fulfil its primary purpose, namely the continuing diversity of views on the matter of the ordination of women. I just wonder where now we might be without it, given that the provisions in the original Measure enabling the ordination of women were both unrealistic and unworkable.
And perhaps those who are currently seeking the rescinding the Act of Synod might turn their minds back to ten years ago – a reasonably short time in the history and life of the Church. They might recall that some of the very same people are those who were at the time ten years ago giving very clear assurances about its continuance and survival, not least at the time when the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament was raising precisely the same questions about its durability and thus to coin a phrase ‘desirous of adding a Measure to a Measure’, hence this is exactly what they foresaw might or could happen. It would not only be a tragedy if the Act of Synod were to be rescinded; it would be an act of betrayal and trigger a new crisis for our Church.
But then given the fact that the ordination of women to the episcopate is now on the agenda – the question which ought in any case to have been addressed in the very first instance – the question needs to be asked whether that Act can continue to bear the weight of this further development having in mind its main premise of ‘extended’ episcopal care. Plainly it could not. Any such arrangements in respect of the ordination of women to the episcopate must surely be at least ‘alternative’ rather than merely ‘extended’, and that these same arrangements be in respect of ‘oversight’ rather than ‘care’ – arrangements ranging from a further development along the broad lines of the Act of Synod to an altogether more distanced Third Province. Discussions will no doubt further continue both as to what might be most desirable as well as the realism of what might actually be achievable.
Above all else, it will be important for all who are unable to accept the decision to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood for whatever reason to ensure an open dialogue together among each other – bishops, priests and people – so as to achieve some clear consensus about the way forward in respect of the ordination of women to the episcopate.
‘Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him, who is the head, into Christ’.
Now it is not insignificant that Paul begins Chapter Four of this Letter to the Ephesians with a plea for humility, gentleness and patience – for a bearing with one another in love ‘making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace’. Purposely, the context of the Act of Synod was the document from the House of Bishops – Bonds of Peace. We need also in these days to heed Paul’s call as to the tenor and tone of our deliberations in the weeks and months ahead in this as in other controverted areas of debate – that hopefully the Christian Church and the Christian world may have something not only to say but also to model and encourage the world beyond the Church as to how it is possible to manage and to handle deeply divisive and disputatious issues both creatively and constructively.
It must surely be very clear that, however strong one’s feelings and views may be, there can be no place for discourtesy, aggression and even abuse towards women who have been ordained. That is not how we have so learned Christ. In any case, such attitudes are entirely contrary to the basic thrust of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, namely that the Church is to be Christ’s instrument of reconciliation in the world.
So even as we look forward and look ahead our main focus must continue to be Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to the Church – to you and me – wherever we may be – to make this good news known day by day, hour by hour, by ourselves being not only the messengers but the message of humility, gentleness and patience of that bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Such is God’s gift to us in this and every Eucharist, for here at this altar in the celebration of these holy and awesome mysteries we are gathered together and held together in the power of the Holy Spirit – each one of us different, our respective views, opinions, personalities, the wide-range of parishes and people represented here tonight – all of us here primarily to be drawn more deeply into life and love of Jesus Christ and in this most Holy Sacrament to receive him who is the Bread of Life – his blood shed for the life of the world.
And here is precisely the point and perspective of it all – the world outside and beyond the Church which continues to challenge us to a renewal in evangelization. Yes, certainly our forebears in the Catholic Movement – some of them at least – were always ready to have a go at the bishops – it’s the stock in trade of being a bishop – either that or they got on with it and took little notice of them. Some of course came under the ban, were even imprisoned for not very much more than a surpliced choir and two lighted candles on the Holy table!
It would be fatally easy for this constituency to fall into the trap of defining itself solely by what it is against. Together with the whole Church we need to keep Jesus Christ and the liberating power of his Gospel at the top of any agenda – that mission entrusted by him to his Church in every age to announce God’s kingdom and to make disciples. In other words, to be alert and alive to the many challenges and possibilities which today’s world presents to communicate and ourselves model the virtues and values of the Christian faith and life in a lively and vibrant way. It is surely priest, people, parish together fully involved certainly with the Church, its liturgy and its life – equally fully involved in the local neighbourhood and community seeking always that fullness of life which Christ wills for each and every person.
So this night in company with angels and archangels, with Blessed Mary and all the saints giving thanks for the episcopal ministry among us of Bishops John and Martyn we commend in faith and in confidence the life of all our parishes and people to the God who in Christ has called us to glorify his name and make the Gospel of his eternal and everlasting love known throughout the world, praying that, come what may, we will always be faithful in our discipleship, constant in prayer and ready witnesses at all times and in all places so that many others may come to find and to follow in the way of Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the fullness of life for all.
David Hope is Archbishop of York and Primate of England.