Mixed response over new Sheffield bishop as he opposes ordination of women in the Church

Philip North’s appointment as the new bishop of Sheffield has been met with mixed feelings by members of the Christian and secular communities.

North’s controversial belief that women should not be ordained as priests or bishops has led a senior member of the Church of England to urge him to withdraw from the post.

Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church, Oxford, writes: “Sheffield is a go-ahead, vibrant, progressive city, with cutting-edge universities and research-led industries. It is thoroughly modern. The public will neither comprehend nor welcome this rather fogeyish sacralised sexism”.

The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy

Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality (SAME) is urging Sheffield residents to sign a letter to Rt Rvd North.

The letter states: “Our principal concern is, of course, your position as a traditionalist bishop coming to a Diocese that, despite having a number of traditionalist parishes, is mostly not of that persuasion.”

This is not the first time that North’s traditionalist views on women in the ministry have affected his own position in the Church.

In 2012, he withdrew his acceptance of the post of bishop of Whitby, when the General Synod, the Church’s governing body, voted that women should be allowed to be ordained bishops. North called it a “difficult time” for the Church.

North’s appointment has been met with mixed feelings in Sheffield.

Emma Percy, Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church), has released a statement in which she writes: “We are aware of the sadness felt by many in Sheffield that they will now have a Diocesan Bishop who will not ordain women.

“Sheffield is a diocese with a large number of women clergy and we sincerely hope that the new Bishop will promote a culture in which ordained women will feel validated and encouraged to flourish.

“We also note that once again a man has been appointed to a vacant diocesan post. We have concerns that the current appointment system makes it harder for women to be appointed as diocesan Bishops.”

Many have also come forward to support the appointment of North, who is known for his passionate belief that the Church should listen to and better represent the marginalised and the poor.

Sheffield-based poverty campaigner Jo Chamberlain wrote that she is conflicted about the Church’s decision to appoint North as bishop. She wrote: “He brings a vision for the poor and the left behind on ‘outer estates’ and those who have worked with him say nothing but good things.

“But all this comes attached to a man whose theological conviction means he cannot ordain women as priests or bishops.”

The Church of England ordained its first 32 female priests in 1994. Since then, the number of women in the clergy has grown.

In 2015, Libby Lane became the first woman to be consecrated a bishop of the Anglican church.

Women currently make up around 27% of the Church of England’s full time paid clergy.