The appointment of the Bishop of Crediton, Sarah Mullally, as the new Bishop of London is as remarkable as it is welcome. It is remarkable because the Bishop is relatively junior, she was a Suffragan – an assistant to a more senior Bishop. It is remarkable too because the Bishop has only been a priest for a relatively short time, having previously had a successful career in the public sector. The appointment is welcome because the Diocese of London is large, noisy and fractious. The new Bishop, who was not tipped by anyone to become the Church’s third most senior appointment, brings a fresh approach and broad experience to the task of pulling the Church of England’s largest Diocese together.
The question of who should succeed Richard Chartres in this key Church job has been preoccupying the leadership of the Church for months. Various factions have vied, pushed and cajoled – mostly in private and occasionally in public. Although many people know little and care less about the Church at all, let alone its internal appointments, it plays a fundamentally important part in the lives of communities across the country. The Bishop of London plays a crucial part in leading the Church in London and the wider nation. This appointment matters inside and outside of the Church of England.
Bishop Sarah’s appointment represents a determined effort by Archbishop Justin, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to move beyond ‘tradition’ (the term used to signify different factions determination to do their own thing) and provide London and the Church with a new face and a fresh perspective. It is an appointment designed to help take the message of the Gospel out of Church buildings and into the public square.
In recent years the Church of England has become obsessed with the notion of leadership. It endlessly talks about being a leader. As numbers of regular worshippers have continued on a path of rapid decline, too often the Church has seemed preoccupied with its own internal squabbles and politics. When the General Synod initially voted not to allow women to become Bishops it came within a hairs width of Parliament asserting its right to order the Church to allow women into the Episcopate. In her first statement the new Bishop of London spoke of service not leadership. It was an auspicious beginning.
It is also right to mark the fact that the Bishop will be the first woman to hold the post – ever. This will be more noteworthy inside than outside of the Church. For some in the Church it will cause difficulty. This will be worked through. The Church of England has a unique role in the life of the nation and this appointment, to Archbishop Justin’s credit, shows it is serious about keeping it and fulfilling its responsibilities to London and the nation well. This is a bold appointment by the Archbishop and Bishop Sarah deserves everyone’s support and, if it is your thing, our prayers too.