Hot on the heels of a full nave in York Minster for the consecration of Stephen Race as the Bishop of Beverley, with the Bishop of Wakefield acting as the Principal Consecrator and the Bishop of Chichester preaching, we have recently witnessed the consecration in Canterbury Cathedral of Paul Thomas as the first Bishop of Oswestry, with the Bishop of Chichester acting as the Principal Consecrator and Fr Barry Orford preaching.
Not even the challenges of train strikes the day before and the day after the consecration, a mid-morning start time and a geographically inconvenient – albeit hugely historically significant – venue could dampen the spirits of those attending. A full Quire was there to support Bishop Paul as he embarked on this the next stage of his vocation. Some had made particularly heroic efforts to travel to the consecration from the further flung parts of the See of Oswestry and even from our new bishop’s homeland of Wales!
In thanking God for this new episcopal ministry beginning amongst us right now, we would do well to reflect on two remarkable statements of faith made at the consecration in Canterbury. The first came via a message from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew – as we know, recently a guest of Bishop Paul at a special service of Evensong at St James, Sussex Gardens – which was read out by one of his archpriests and including the following remarkable words:
We are certain of your success and pray that your journey in this capacity will bear the fragrances of virtue and holiness and that your preaching from the pulpit will resound the eternal melody of ageless Patristic tradition and teaching.
Bishop Paul cannot go far wrong with those words ringing in his ears and nor can he when considering the challenge laid down by Fr Orford:
Father Paul, your experience as a parish priest gives you awareness of what the people of God, and those seeking Christian faith, are crying out for. Not more committees and discussions, not more plans for remaking the Church in our own image, not more bandwagons to chase after. We want strong encouragement to hold firm to the Catholic Faith. So, I make a plea to you and to all bishops, BE WITH US where we are.
The preacher went on to exhort the ordinand to, among other things, ‘BE WITH US AS A TEACHER’, adding that ‘It’s a reflection on how much we’ve lost sight of the real nature of the episcopal role that it might sound astonishing today to be told that a primary task of a bishop is to teach the orthodox faith of the Church and to defend it against error.’
Please pray for Bishop Paul in his new ministry and indeed all the Society bishops, particularly as they prepare to celebrate their Chrism Masses for 2023. The texts of both addresses – and the details of those Chrism Masses – can be found elsewhere in this edition of New Directions.
Meanwhile, there has been extensive coverage in the national media of General Synod’s consideration of the bishops’ conclusions and proposals arising from the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process. The words of the last paragraph but one in this piece seem remarkable apt in this context.
As it transpired, while predictably fractious, the Synod session demonstrated that a degree of apostolic witness remains in the Church of England; strong enough presently, it would seem, not to capitulate to secular society – and indeed the threats of some of its cheerleaders in parliament – on every issue of the day. Reassuringly, Synod added the following additional text to its motion agreeing to support the bishops on LLF:
That this Synod endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to, or indicative of a departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England.
It would be naïve to think that this is the end of the matter; quite the opposite applies. However, there are signs of hope. The trajectory of the conversations among bishops seemed – from the outside at least – to move to a more considered position of what was at stake, not least in terms of our relationship with our ecumenical partners.
It seems fitting to close by requesting that the eternal melody be with us as we seek to hold firm to the Catholic Faith.