The long wait is over: the person selected by the Crown Nominations Commission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be the next Bishop of London is the Rt Rev’d Sarah Mullally, presently Bishop of Crediton. That’s quite a leap – from suffragan to No3 in the CofE episcopal hierarchy in just two years. Of course (quite naturally) most of the media focus (and, indeed, the Church’s) will be on the fact that she is the first female Bishop of London (cue cheers or tears, depending on whether you think this represents breakthrough or apocalypse). It isn’t clear if the CNC wanted “to make a statement” with this nomination, but here’s how No10 announced it:
She is a “late ordinand”?
What, like St Peter?
Or St Paul?
Wasn’t Jesus aged 30 before he commenced his ministry?
It’s good to read that she is a novice potter: God likes those who can tread clay and mould earthen jars. But this “late ordinand” thing irks somewhat. What does No10 believe the right age for ordination to be? 18? 25? 30? May one be ordained “too late”? Was Moses’ call, at the age of 80, not a bit tardy? May one be called “too early”? Is 23 too young? Is 25? Or 28? If Sarah Mullally was a late ordinand in her early 40s, does that mean Theresa May was a late politician?
Chronology quibbles aside, let us be grateful that the CNC (/Holy Spirit) has lighted on a candidate with a distinguished record of service in the world (appointed DBE in 2005). Her gifts are manifest, and her grace radiates (and she tweets a lot). In her own blog, she talks about the daunting challenges she’ll face in London: inequality, deprivation, poverty, poor health. And she’s spot on with this observation:
It is a city where the number of people living alone will rise by over 50% in the next 25 years.
And it is a city where people feel ignored, marginalised and angry.
Loneliness is the new leprosy – isolation, forsaken, abandonment – except that it’s not easily visible to the eye. But the Rt Rev’d Sarah Mullally has the answer, and is eager to proclaim it:
I made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as a teenager. As one hymn puts it, I found in him my Star, my Sun. I look forward to sharing that good news with others as I come to London.
Before becoming a priest, I was a nurse and then the Government’s Chief Nursing Officer for England. People ask what it is like to have had two careers. I reply that I have always had one vocation – to follow Jesus Christ, to know him and to make him known.
For me that means living in the service of others.
Washing feet is a powerful image which has shaped my life.
As a nurse, the way we wash feet affords dignity, respect and value. As a priest I am called to model Jesus Christ, who took off his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet, even the one who would betray him.
I keep that model of service before me, seeking to serve others and value them.
To be able to do that here is a wonderful privilege.
It doesn’t matter a fig that she was a “late ordinand”: her vocation is by no means diminished because of that. Of course, you may think it matters that lacks a penis, and so her priestly vocation (and therefore her episcopal calling) is an ontological nonsense. But as you do so (and doubtless the chat thread below will overflow with apocalyptic scorn), consider that her focus is manifestly on serving Jesus, and that she is highly respected by those outside the Church (cf 1Tim 3:7), and so she may reach interested ears and open hearts with whispers of Christian love and dews of Christ-like peace in ways which another may never have been able to.
Don’t criticise, decry or scorn her: please instead pray for her, for the powers that be are ordained of God (Rom 13:1) – late or not.