It is perhaps appropriate that on this noteworthy day of the appointment by the Church of England of the first woman bishop, thus departing from the tradition of the churches of the first millennium, we should reflect on the following:
On 7th November 2014 it was announced that Father Philip North CMP, former Administrator of the Anglican Shrine in Walsingham and currently Team Rector at Old St. Pancras in London, has been appointed the new Bishop of Burnley, Suffragan bishop in the diocese of Blackburn.
This is significant for a number of reasons, not least because of Fr. Philip’s withdrawal two years previously from his appointment as Bishop of Whitby after massive protests from the local C of E faithful because of his stance against women bishops.
At the time, the Church Times had announced:
In a statement issued by the diocese of London, Fr North said: “It was a great honour to be chosen for this role, and I had been very much looking forward to taking up the position. However, in the light of the recent vote in the General Synod, and having listened to the views of people in the Archdeaconry of Cleveland, I have concluded that it is not possible for me, at this difficult time for our Church, to be a focus for unity. I have therefore decided that it is better to step aside at this stage.
“I have reached this decision after a time of deep reflection and feel sure that it is for the best. I now look forward to refocusing my energies on the pastoral needs of my parish.”
To explain why he has accepted a second episcopal appointment, Fr. North has now announced:
“Some of you might be aware that I withdrew from an appointment as Bishop of Whitby. The fact that I have been invited and have agreed to serve as a Bishop again is testimony to the very different mood across the Church of England since the understandable disappointment that followed the failure in 2012 of the legislation to enable women to be bishops.
The Church has stated afresh its commitment to enabling all traditions to flourish within its life and structures, and I hope that my appointment will be seen as evidence of that pledge.”
We can only hope that the Church of England indeed remains true to this commitment and that Bishop-elect North is not ultimately disappointed.
Two years before his appointment to Whitby, Philip North had made rather a name for himself when in a speech at Pusey House in Oxford he publicly refused Pope Benedict’s offer to join the ordinariate in Britain. He had pointed at the specific advantage that the CofE enjoys as a result of Establishment, namely that the vicar of a Church of England parish has the cure of the souls of all the residents of the parish, something which Fr. North highly cherishes.