Two categories of Bishops in the Church of England

Whose hands are tainted?

Over the past month there have been 2 consecrations in York Minster. Libby Lane on 26th January and Philip North on 2nd February. In many ways these two consecrations mark an important point in the life of the church.

To witness the consecration of the Libby Lane as the first woman bishop within the Church of England has been joyous and momentous. It is the culmination of years of hard work by many – especially within some of our partner organisations. We look forward to seeing other women nominated and consecrated as bishops soon.

The consecration of Philip North as Bishop of Burnley may not have been a natural place for Inclusive Church to be present. The National Coordinator was there because Philip had been in his youth group when Bob was a curate back in the 1980’s. The Archbishop of York reminded us at the beginning of the service that it is the Holy Spirit who consecrates!

We are grateful to Sally Barnes, IC trustee for her reflection on some of the issues that the consecration of Philip North has raised.

Coming back from York, after the joyous consecration of our new female bishop, I could not help but reflect on attitudes held towards women regarding the notion of “Taint” and the so-called breaking of the “line of apostolic succession”. Apart from the deep offence both of these views hold for women, particularly relating to taint, serious questions need to be asked.

I pondered, “Who was it Christ actually laid hands upon?” It certainly wasn’t to ordain men as priests or bishops was it? No! He laid his hands on lepers to heal them. He was touched by the woman with the issue of blood and, aware of her touch, turned and cured her. He touched and raised the dying and the dead, girls, boys, and adults. He spoke to the woman at the well, asking her for water – an act that would have involved her in touching the bowl from which he would have taken a drink. He accepted the touch of the woman who bathed his feet and anointed him with oil. Did he draw back from being touched by this woman? Did he wonder if she was menstruating at the time? No! He commended her, blessed her and rebuked his disciples for disapproving of her act of generosity and love.

He told them, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mat 26 v 13). Jesus understood about generosity. He was rebuked for picking wheat on the Sabbath and not washing his hands. He had much to say to the Pharisees in response to their criticism; much that that they did not want to hear. We need to ask, “Who is the tainted one in all these stories? Whose hands (and therefore very Being) would have been thought unclean? Jesus, by his actions, in accordance with the religious, social and cultural customs of his time, would have been regarded as contaminated, tainted, unclean, breaking the mould, and yet, he repeatedly touched and healed those who needed him, male and female.

I wonder, then, “What he is saying to us today?”. “What is he trying to get us to understand?” “What are we meant to learn from this man who tried to turn upside down constructs we have created throughout time that seek to exclude those who are regarded as outside the Ecclesiastical and Social norms?” But then my train drew into Kings Cross and I ceased to wonder – just for the time being.
Sally Barnes. Inclusive Church Trustee
The response of WATCH to the consecration of Bishop of Burnley can be found here.


Sally Barnes, ‘Inclusive Church’ trustee, was present at both of the Church of England ceremonies recently held in York Minster, to ordain bishops in that Church. One was a woman – Bishop Libby Lane; the other, a man – Bishop Philip North.

Apart from their individual gender status; each is now a bishop of the Church of England, fully affirmed in their role as members of the House of Bishops. The difference between them is that Bishop Philip is acceptable as a bishop by all members of the Church; whereas Bishop Libby is officially unacceptable to a minority in the Church, who do not accept her role as either priest or bishop!

Sally Barnes – and ‘Inclusive Church’ – are pointing out the oddity that is now the situation of episcopal authority in the Church of England. The question; When is a bishop not a bishop? may now be answered by those in the Church who will not accept Bishop Libby’s jurisdiction; with the reply: When the bishop is a woman!

One wonders how, in this new context, the C. of E. can claim the charism of collegiality in its House of Bishops? What has now been allowed to enter into the canonical situation of episcopal jurisdiction is, at least, an anomaly; if not a denial of the equality of women as fellow heirs of Christ in the Church. One wonders what will happen when more women are ordained bishops in the Church of England. Will the discriminatory system be maintained? And at what price?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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