I delayed writing a blog yesterday until today, until I had been to the consecration of the new Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane. So I’ve now got back from York and am still full of the joy of being at such a wonderful and historic service.
When I got to St Michael-le-Belfry, which is where ‘other’ clergy were robing, I saw an old friend, Jonathan Cowap, who heads up the morning show on BBC Radio York. So a microphone was put in front of me and I was asked why I’d made the journey up from Southwark to York. But he also asked me other things that enabled me to say that what I expected was that, as in so many other cases of something long anticipated, in the end it seems, natural, normal. It happened to me when I went to be a witness at a couple of friends’ Civil Partnership. It seemed so normal, so natural. The same happened, as I’d anticipated, today.
I’m not saying that it was an anti-climax, not saying it wasn’t impressive, moving, tremendous, impressive – all of those hings. It was all of those and more besides. But as soon as Libby came into the St Michael’s to greet us before the service, in her purple shirt and cassock, it looked so normal, as though it was meant to be. And of course it was meant to be, has been meant to be. It’s just that it has taken us all these years to catch up with where the Holy Spirit was leading us.
So now we can rejoice that we are a church which ordains people regardless of gender to each of the orders of ministry. That is the ‘new normal’.
I was also asked what I thought women would bring to the House of Bishops. My answer was that I thought that it was as wrong to generalise about women as it is to generalise about men. The thing that women will bring with them is the fullness of humanity. ‘God created them male and female’ it says in Genesis and so far only half of that wonderful creation, that fullness of creation of humankind, made in the image of God, has been there in the ordained ministry. Now that is over and we really can recognise the true image of God in the ordained ministry.
In her sermon the Archdeacon of York, Sarah Bullock, talked about ‘God the midwife.’ It is a wonderful image and one that is dear to my heart. In my final interview with the Principal at Mirfield I was told that I was ‘something of a midwife in the College’ bringing things to birth in people. I took it as a compliment!
But I love the brief mention of the midwives to the Hebrew women that we find in Exodus 1. Shiphrah and Puah are the two named women who were helping mothers in childbirth and were there for the mother of Moses. Real women helping to bring to birth among the children of God.
The God who brings things to birth in the church, the God who brings things to birth in us, the God who brings things to birth in creation, is the God we experienced in York Minster today. The labour has been long and hard and the pains that we have endured along the way have at times seemed unbearable. But Jesus says this to us
When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. (John 16.21)
The pain is over, joy has come and we receive God’s gift with deep joy and gratitude. Like others I look forward to inhabiting the new normal in which we only speak of deacons, we only speak of priests, we only speak of bishops and gender plays no part but in which we simply reflect the glory of the God who has brought great things to birth today.
The only sad thing was to see, when all those bishops moved forward to share in the laying-on-of-hands, was a small group who held back, unable to take their part with the rest of the College. It was a deep sadness and we will see that played out at the consecration of the Bishop of Burnley in a week’s time. I want the whole church to flourish and that includes those who hold back and I believe that God the midwife will continue to bring new things to birth that will mean that can be true.
But for now we simply rejoice on a great day for the Church of England.
This is the prayer that Sarah used at the end of her sermon.
God of the Dawn, Morning Star,
Mother and Father of All,
we bless your holy name!
Sing through your creation
as you did on the First Day!
Enfold your servant Libby
with your encouragement, hope, and grace.
Inspire her and your whole Church
to embrace the wholeness of your Kingdom,
the promise of your love. Amen.