England is the largest part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Church of England is recognised by the state as being the official church within England and as such has various roles, such as officiating at a coronation of the monarch. And the Church is episcopal, meaning it has bishops.
Up until this day of our Lord all of its bishops have been men. I will not go into boring detail here, save to say that traditionalists have long opposed the ordination of women as bishops in the church. There are several reasons for this, one of them being the fact that JC himself is deemed to have set a precedent by not having a single female disciple – an argument also used to deny women entry to the priesthood.
Today, in York Minster, the Reverend Libby Lane became the first woman bishop of the Church of England. I watched part of the ceremony and could see why traditionalists might be unhappy. There was much talk of Fathers and Sons but none of Mothers and Daughters. They don’t count, and that is the way they would like to keep it. And during the communal recital of what appeared to be the credo, I noted that the Church of England considers itself not only apostolic but also catholic, and the Catholic church, as we know, has no women priests, let alone women bishops.
The ceremony, as might be expected, underlined the links between church and state. A warrant from the Queen was read out ordering the new bishop’s consecration, and the new bishop duly took oaths of allegiance not just to the Church but also to the Queen.
So what about the laying on of hands? The following is from The Independent dated 24th January.
‘Archbishop John Sentamu will consecrate the Anglican Church’s first female bishop Reverend Libby Lane when she becomes Bishop of Stockport on Monday. During the ceremony, he will “lay on of hands” on her.
The following week, he will not lay hands on Reverend Phillip North when he becomes Bishop of Burnley.’
The reason he will not lay hands on Phillip North is that he will previously have laid hands on Libby Lane, and the Rev Lane is a woman. I have listened in amazement to the wonderful contortions various speakers have gone through attempting either to explain or justify this, but can only conclude that Archbishop Sentamu knows that his hands, in the eyes of some, will have become tainted through contact with Libby Lane during her elevation. This does not cheer me up.
The other thing that struck me was the truly astonishing finery in which Archbishop Sentamu was draped. I have never seen anything like it and, harking back to the biblical precedents so beloved of traditionalists, I can find no justification for this in the Good Book. By all accounts, JC dressed modestly at all times and made his way round Galilee in second-hand sandals from a charity shop.
So as a mild corrective, here is a picture I took yesterday of the place where a homeless man sleeps. It does not compare to a bishop’s palace but at least he has some roof over his head.