First female bishop of Bristol on gay blessings: ‘Not theologically a problem for me’
Harry Farley Tue 15 May 2018 10:50 BST
The new bishop of Bristol has been announced as Vivienne Faull, the current dean of York, and the first woman to take up the role. Faull was the first female cleric to lead a Church of England cathedral as provost and then dean of Leicester in 2000. She will become the fifteenth woman bishop in the CofE but only the fourth in a senior diocesan post. She has previously said she would have no problem theologically with blessing a gay relationship and condemned the Church for ‘driving people away’ with its stance on sexuality.
Diocese of Bristol
Vivienne Faull was the Church of England’s most senior female cleric in a time before women bishops were allowed. Rules designed to increase the number of women bishops in the House of Lords means she will leapfrog more senior male bishops when the next bishop with a seat in the Lords retires. The bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, will reach the compulsory retirement age of 70 in September.
‘It was 24 years ago that Bristol was the first diocese to ordain women as priests, and I want the diocese to continue to show that pioneering courage,’ she said on her appointment. ‘I look forward to leading a church that shows the love of Christ to everyone, whoever they are.’
She will be consecrated as a bishop at a service in St Paul’s Cathedral on July 3 and be installed in Bristol in the autumn.
In a 2014 interview with the Radio Times, Faull said bishops had not ‘quite got’ how much attitudes to gay relationships had shifted in the UK and people in Britain no longer ‘understand in their hearts’ the Church’s position on homosexuality. She also revealed she had ‘found ways’ of celebrating civil partnerships without flouting the Church of England’s legislation.
‘The blessing of a gay relationship is not theologically a problem for me personally, but I’m under the discipline of the Church and I keep the rules,’ she said. ‘When people have come to me in the past and said, “We’re looking for a way of celebrating our civil partnership, how shall we do it?”, we’ve found ways of doing it,’ she told the Radio Times.
‘I’m getting approached by young people of the same gender planning their marriages,’ she added at the time. ‘They understand in their heads what the Church’s position is, but they no longer understand in their hearts. It’s driving people away and that’s dreadful.’
Faull has family roots in Bristol and will spend the day visiting a homeless centre in Bristol, a village church in Wiltshire, a church school in Chippenham, and the newly announced Pattern Church in Swindon before finishing at Bristol Cathedral.
The archbishop of York, Most Rev John Sentamu, said: ‘I rejoice with the Diocese of Bristol that Her Majesty the Queen has accepted the nomination of the Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, to be the 57th Bishop of Bristol. ‘Dean Faull leads by following Jesus’ way with insight and oversight, with a readiness to be led as well as to lead. She has been a great Dean for York, taking risks for the Kingdom of God, for example persuading the Dean and Chapter to put on the Mystery Plays inside the Minster. ‘She has made the Minster a great home of hospitality, worship and friendliness. A comment I will never forget was made by the head of one of the Minster’s biggest departments who had been prepared for confirmation. I asked “Why confirmation now?” and the reply came back with a beaming smile, “Because the dean has, and is, making God credible and believable.’
Lee Rayfield, who will be one of Faull’s juniors as bishop of Swindon and has been acting bishop of Bristol, said: ‘Having begun to get to know Viv, I am seeing many of the qualities and experience she will bring to this next season of ministry in our diocese. As the next Bishop of Bristol, Viv will help us to build on what is and has been fruitful while enabling us to make progress in areas where fresh approaches are needed.’
The fact that the Church of England and H.M. Queen Elizabeth II have nominated the current Dean of York – The Very Revd. Vivienne Faull – to become the next Bishop of Bristol is a clear sign of the Church of England’s determination to respond to the need for a new understanding of the LGBT+ community in that Church.
With her history of support for the Church’s acceptance of faithful monogamous same-sex relationships, Dean Faull is able to encourage young people into a more broad and open understanding of how the love of God can work through the open acceptance of people of the margins of the Church.
Her work in the Diocese of York, and specifically within the Minster Community, has been praised by the Archbishop of York, ++ John Sentamu, who – as described above – as Dean of York Minster she is and has been “making God credible and believable” to even long-standing members of the Church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand