Tuesday 7 February 2017, Doncaster Minster

7th March 2017

Tuesday 7 February 2017, Doncaster Minster

The Very Revd Philip North and Revd Abi Thompson, Dean of Women’s Ministry

Sheffield Diocese Introductory meeting with Women Clergy, Chaplains, Curates and Ordinands

Welcome and Introductions

Colleagues were warmly welcomed with refreshments and prayers by the Revd David Stevens and the Doncaster Minster team.   Bishop Philip extended thanks to colleague attending, particularly grateful to have the opportunity to chat and speak to colleagues before the meeting started.  He gave thanks for colleagues’ priestly service and confirmed how good it was to be able to come to serve us in the Diocese.  The agenda and logistics were outlined, and the meeting opened in prayer. 

New Testament Reading and Lord’s Prayer

Bishop Philip commenced with the reading from the New Testament for Morning Prayer:

John 15: 12-endMy command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.   Greater love has no one hat this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do as I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last- and so that whatever you ask n my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.’

Introductory remarks

Bishop Philip took time to introduce himself to colleagues, his North London roots and family connections to the Diocese, particularly in Doncaster.   Bishop Philip shared his faith journey: his ordination aged 22 and his Ministry in challenging, northern housing estates over 10 years, to a managerial role in Norfolk at the Walsingham Shrine a place of pilgrimage and later to London, near St Pancras Station leading a large team.  Most recently he has enjoyed the last two years serving as Bishop of Burnley in the Blackburn Diocese.

Making clear his passion for Jesus Christ, Bishop Philip explored Jesus’ calling to us in joy to our ministry and work.  He also shared his passion for the role of the church supporting the poor, and the challenge of injustice present in many difficult places and within parishes.  He shared his passion and keenness to share gospel with young, for our work with schools and the vital importance of reaching out to families.

On a personal level, Bishop Philip outlined how he felt, reflecting on his calling and the Crown Nominations Commission process.  He shared how prayerfully he had taken time discerning the call, over a long period of time.  His focus was beginning a process of building relationships.  He openly acknowledged the strength of feeling.  Bishop Philip said he understood those feelings and asked to be given a real chance to make things work.  He was mindful these were huge issues to address in the Diocese and underlined how he was personally committed to address them.  Bishop Philip made clear he knows how much pain this decision has caused and continues to cause.  He said how deeply sorry he was about causing pain, and the regret caused, completely committed to make this work. 

Bishop Philip reflected on the General Synod original dialogue on this matter, and the breadth of traditions.  He recognised the Church of England is living with anomaly and questions.  He explained how he has discussed this with Bishop Libby, and they shared common concerns about the challenge of living with compromise, messiness and anomaly.  He recognised though, that unity is bigger than institutional authority.   While unable in conscience to ordain women, Bishop Philip made clear he was not opposed women's leadership - to the contrary.   Canonically ordained means a priest is a priest is a priest and a bishop is a bishop is a bishop.  The issue is not purely sacramental or about validity. 

Bishop Phillip confirmed it was vitally important to try to not make this personal.   Calling was sincere and heartfelt.  He explained he had no wish to stop progress or turn the clock back; instead he was keen to find an adequate workable resolution, however messy.  He made clear we have to go on travelling together, mutually flourishing and find necessary space to draw together.  His hope was for a place of welcome for traditionalists, not grudging care, for Sheffield to be a place where we are able to delight in the breadth and diversity our church.

How it will work in practice and how we need to minister together, despite difference needed to be worked through with a focus on unity.  Bishop Philip confirmed that he had ordained more women to the diaconate than men and ordained all men and women together as Deacons with joy.  He was keen to continue.  His expectation was not to ordain to priesthood, inviting Bishop Peter to ordain most candidates for the priesthood with assistant Bishops presiding at others’.  He confirmed he would continue to appoint and license men and women on an equal basis. He had always sponsored both men and women for Ordination and would do so in future. He confirmed that Bishop Peter would continue as Sponsoring Bishop for ordination candidates.

When visiting parishes for Eucharist, the Bishop Philip confirmed that he would follow the established tradition of the Bishop presiding, standing alongside the senior team.  He stated that he see it as a personal failure if we failed to address key challenges for women, for example where we don't see enough women in senior roles from the senior staff team to the Diocesan Office or Cathedral.  He underlined that he would consider it a personal failure if big issues such as women’s vocations and women’s leadership progression were not resolved.  He considered options to set up a new Dean of Women's Ministry Reference Group to ensure future leaders are identified.  While some may raise concerns about filing key vacancies with those from his own tradition, Bishop Philip made clear there were never enough people even to fill posts in resolution parishes.  He would not want to see that, instead keen to see Dioceses grow diverse and delight in growth. 

Bishop Philip also emphasised his personal attention to one to one conversation, and being passionate about the focus of the Bishop’s role as chief pastor.  He underlined the serious time commitment he would offer to this work.  And it will be important to recognise the track record of our women priests.  Words cannot be empty.  Instead Bishop Philip asked that we need to see them lived out in over time.  While the business of relationship building and growing trust can be slow, we are not looking to overcome theology.  Rather healthy Christian relationships are a form of lived theology. Pertinent currently as we have division in politics, Brexit, Elections, USA, and have an opportunity to model a counter-cultural policy of joy not fear.  Bishop Philip looks to witness to unity around diversity, so important where we see increasingly fragmented policy and communities.

Questions and Vote of Thanks

Colleagues spent 15 minutes, with Abi taking the chair, as Bishop Philip stepped out of the meeting to allow further reflection.  Abi chaired a short session to gather questions.  Bishop Philip returned; Abi opened the question and answer session to the floor.  Abi offered our thanks to Bishop Philip and colleagues.  Those unable to ask their questions were invited write post it notes.  The meeting closed at 12:00 noon, sharing the Grace.  Colleagues were invited to remain for the Eucharist.

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