Women priests show support for Sheffield’s controversial new bishop

31 Jan 2017...The new Bishop of Sheffield Rt Revd Philip North. Picture Scott Merrylees
31 Jan 2017...The new Bishop of Sheffield Rt Revd Philip North. Picture Scott Merrylees

Nearly 40 female clergy who work alongside Sheffield’s next bishop have signed a joint letter offering him their support, amid continuing unease over his opposition to the ordination of women as priests.

The priests, from the Church of England’s Diocese of Blackburn, where the Rt Rev Philip North serves as the Bishop of Burnley, said they felt a ‘mixture of understanding and sadness’ about the controversy, but added: “His passion for the poor, especially those in the outer estates, has been an inspiration to many as has his leadership, teaching and deep spirituality.

“This one theological difference aside, he has created a real buzz about the diocese and we view the prospect of his departure with sadness but will keep him and all the people of Sheffield in our prayers.”

Mr North is expected to be elected next month. But calls have been made for a review of the process by which a ‘traditionalist’ cleric was nominated as the Sheffield Diocese’s next bishop.

Signatures are being collected on a letter to Rev North being circulated by a new group, Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality, urging him to engage in ‘face-to-face’ discussion soon.

Last week the bishop designate faced demands from the Very Rev Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, for him ‘stand aside’ over his beliefs, or renounce his affiliation with The Society, a C of E organisation that thinks only men should be priests.

Mr North has been Bishop of Burnley for two years. He declined the post of Bishop of Whitby in 2012 amid similar protests.

The joint letter, co-ordinated by the Rev Canon Fleur Green, advisor for women’s ministry in Blackburn, said: “Before Bishop Philip came to Blackburn, many of us, quite naturally, had some concerns over his views on the ordination of women.

“But he has worked incredibly hard to make sure that all people feel more than included in the life of the diocese.”

In a ‘pastoral letter’ to clergy and church members on Wednesday, the Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Rev Peter Burrows - who will be Mr North’s most senior colleague - said: “I remain sure a way forward will emerge. During this first week of Lent, Bishop Philip will be taking some time for prayer and reflection on retreat.”