Posted on: January 26, 2015 1:53 PM
The Rt Revd Libby Lane has been consecrated as the first female bishop in the Church of England in a packed service at York Minster today attended by more than 100 bishops from the Church of England and women bishops from across the Anglican Communion.
In a statement shortly after being consecrated, Bishop Libby said she had been encouraged by the thousands of messages of support she has received since the news of her appointment was announced. She said:
“Archbishop Sentamu has observed, “the way that we show our faith and our love for one another is with two simple things, prayer and parties.” Today is an occasion of prayer and of party – and I am thrilled that so many want to share in both. I cannot properly express how encouraged I have been in the weeks since the announcement of my nomination, by the thousands of messages I have received with words of congratulation, support and wisdom. I’ve heard from people of all ages, women and men – people I have known for years, and people I have never met; people from down the road, and people from across the world.
“Many those who have been in touch have little or no contact with the Church of England; not all have been people of faith, but every one of them has felt this moment marks something important. That all this personal – and media – attention has centred on me has been a little overwhelming: I cannot possibly live up to everyone’s expectation. And so today, at my consecration, I hold on to words of promise from the Bible, a reassurance that all this does not depend on me … ‘the God who calls you is faithful: He will do it’ (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
“My consecration service is not really about me. With echoes of practice which has been in place for hundreds of years in the church, it is a reminder that what I am about to embark on is shared by the bishops around me, by those who have gone before me and those who will come after. It places the ministry of a bishop in the context of the ministry of all God’s people. And most importantly it retells the good news of Jesus, the faithful one, who calls each of us to follow him.
“Thank you to all who are praying for me and partying with me today. Please continue to hold me in your prayers as, after the example of St Timothy and St Titus who are celebrated by the Church on this day, I share in work of proclaiming the gospel, in word and action, and bearing witness to the name of Jesus.”
” I hold on to words of promise from the Bible, a reassurance that all this does not depend on me … ‘the God who calls you is faithful: He will do it’ (1 Thessalonians 5:24).” – Bishop Libby Lane – First Woman Bishop in the C.of E.
These words of the first woman bishop in the Church of England encapsulate what have been the hopes and fears of many members of the Christian Churches who happen to be female – an accident of birth – which still inhibits many other Christians, both female and male, against rejoicing at this occasion which has allowed the Church of England to, at last, honour the calling of women to be bishops in that Church.
Bishop Libby will indeed find things difficult in her particular situation. Forbidden – in the context of the Archbishop of York’s plea of ‘gracious restraint’ – to share in the laying on of hands upon the next (male) bishop to be ordained in the historic York Minster, she will share this inhibition with most of her male colleagues, who will this day have joined in the ancient tradition of the laying on of hands at her episcopal ordination. What is the problem? The fact that these male bishops will have participated in the episcopal ordination of A WOMAN!
This, hopefully, will not be the last ordination of a woman into the role of a bishop in the Church of England – a situation which has long been open to women in other provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion. My own ACANZP Province began the process many years ago, and my own bishop, The Right Reverend Victoria Matthews, in Christchurch, New Zealand was an earlier bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Not only that, she happens to be a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the Anglican Communion.
So, why is it that the Church of England has lagged behind other Anglican Provinces that have welcomed women into both priesthood and episcopacy? Perhaps part of the answer has been the fact that, within the Church of England, the two extremes of churchmanship have fostered an antipathy towards women clergy on differing bases. The extreme Anglo-Catholic wing on the basis of catholic and orthodox tradition, that has maintained the long-held suspicion that only males can be called to sacramental ministry; while the extreme Evangelical wing has insisted on the Sola-Scriptura position of the Pauline inhibition against the leadership role of women in relation to men.
The Church of England has had to try to balance the demands of both parties, although the ordination of women as priests did cause some Anglo-Catholics to flee the nest, the extreme Evangelical wing seemed not too bothered by this. It is only the prospect of women as bishops – with the role that demands loyalty from their clergy – that has rallied the ire of those Evangelicals who take literally the Pauline injunction against the headship of women over men. What they are not so keen on is Paul’s later affirmation of the fact that “In Christ, there is neither male nor female”.
While the British Government has already, in principle, voted for women to take their place as Bishops in the House of Lords; the Church of England seems, still, to harbour those who feel that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand