Darkness always gives way to the light. The announcement that Philip North is to be the next Bishop of Sheffield is a source of great joy and encouragement. I profoundly disagree with Philip on the ordination of women (which he does not receive), yet I know him to be a person of tremendous gifts. He is a gift to the church. His opening speech to the diocese is perfect. Not the bishop as ‘focus of unity’ – how tiring these phrases become – but the one who loves his people; and his people: the 92% who don’t know Jesus.
“We need to be joyful in love … The most important role of a Bishop is to love the people in their care, for love is not an emotion, it is self-giving.”
“The alarming truth is that the Church of England’s presence amongst the nation’s poorest people gets weaker and weaker by the year, especially on the outer estates. A Church that leaves behind the poor is not the Church of Jesus Christ. We need to be fearless in forming a Church of and for the poor.”
“We need to transform fear into joy. And we can do that – we can do it because we know the future. It is God’s Church, not ours. He has already won the victory. The future is the joy of heaven, the triumph of love, the peace and justice of the Kingdom. It is not our job to save the Church because it’s not ours to save. Rather our call is to invite others to share in the joy of knowing Jesus as Lord and friend. It is not our anxiety or our paranoia or our fear that will capture imaginations with the Gospel. It is our joy in Christian living.”
I have always committed myself to working for unity but not uniformity. Mutual flourishing is made so real in this appointment. I pray that my dear brothers and sisters in the Catholic movement who cannot receive the ministry of women as priests will be heartened and renewed by this move, that it will renew all of us as Catholic Anglicans. That it will draw all of us to renew our commitment to the poor. Not just the glamorous poor – the interesting inner cities – but also the housing estates and the post-industrial towns and cities. Philip returns us to our roots and in his ministry he shows us that Mary of Nazareth, in that Holy House, at Walsingham and at Nazareth points us to a home, a home for all who know and love Jesus, a home open to all the world.
And for women and LGBT priests and people it is a marvellous sign of the mysteriousness of God and his kingdom. How are we held together? How are we loved in disagreement? How are we friends and yet enemies? This appointment is a wonderful gift of the ‘dynamic of the provisional’, the ambiguous, the grey areas. God is good indeed.
The Church of England is a glorious, wonderful place to love Jesus, to make Jesus known. What madness! a church where people with the profoundest disagreements can live and love together, can serve God’s world. This appointment is a sign of what can be if we let the Spirit break in. Praised be God for light in the midst of darkness.