TWENTY-ONE years ago, on the feast of St Andrew, I was consecrated bishop in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. It was a wonderful day, the night before spent at Lambeth Palace, with the Bishop at Lambeth taking the children up to the roof to look at the foxes, whilst Archbishop Carey, in a rare moment of levity, remarked that the children of the bishops-designate – the present Bishop of Manchester was the other ordinand – would discover that the foxes were of ‘different integrities’. (If you don’t understand the joke, you have been spared a great deal of trouble.) The ceremony in St Paul’s was impressive. Bishop Walker got to choose the preacher – Bishop Jack Nichols – and I got to choose the music. Our family favourite for big occasions – ‘Soul of my Saviour’ – was vetoed by the Archbishop because of its eucharistic theology. For this there was some compensation in the afternoon when I was privileged to preside at Benediction at St Alban’s, Holborn. The Anglo-catholic turnout for the day was remarkable: so many people wanted to be blessed at the end of the ceremony that I was too late for lunch; the procession into and from Benediction excited the 100% Mexican wave of genuflections for which Anglo-catholics are famous. It is, of course, Christ who is honoured and not his feeble and frail minister.
Those early days are a treasured memory, though within weeks I was desperately ill in hospital and the senior flying bishops, retired and serving – John Richards and Edwin Barnes – were engaged in damage limitation. Perhaps I should be pensioned off. There was a hesitant return to work but, during my ten years, not least because of the support of my wonderful staff, I managed it all. When George Carey invited me to be Bishop of Ebbsfleet, I did say that I was on an ecumenical journey and that, were I a bishop, the focus would change from an individual journey to a corporate one. After all, I had been ordained into the Anglican ministry in 1983, at the height of the ecumenical excitement about Anglican and Roman Catholic convergence and in the nineties I had lived through what I had thought was a very disappointing response from Roman Catholic bishops to that possibility. I think the give-away was a remark later from Cormac Murphy O’Connor, always good for a joke. He said that wherever there were two buildings in close proximity – Anglican and Catholic – he was in no doubt as to which one would become the church and the other the church hall. Basil Hume had said something similar about the problem of two churches on the same high street, when the SSC (the Anglo-catholic priestly fraternity) invited him to meet them thirty years ago in St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road. To give George Carey credit, he accepted my point about ecumenical journeying – though, no doubt, having in mind a different time-scale – and, later on, Rowan Williams, though sympathetic to what he would have seen as Catholic convergence, accused me of putting my foot on the ecumenical accelerator. I was proud about that because ecumenism had become – and still is – the kind of forum in which much was said and little done: well-meaning talk is easier than action. Meanwhile I was getting a reputation in Anglo-catholic circles for saying RITA, Rome is the Answer. People found that thrilling talk but too dangerous seriously to contemplate.
I am still very mindful of the clergy and people of Ebbsfleet, a community which embraced over 100 parishes in thirteen Church of England dioceses, from Truro in the South to Lichfield in the North, Hereford in the West to Oxford in the Midlands. Some of these clergy and communities made the journey with me. Some wished to but could not manage it. Others were bewildered by the suggestion of what to them seemed like moving denomination and forsaking beloved communities. All were beloved and continue to be loved. Since I resigned, on St Andrew’s Day 2010, after ten years’ ministry, there were to be two more Bishops of Ebbsfleet, both called ‘Jonathan’. One moved to Fulham, to pick up where Bishop John Broadhurst had left off. The other recently resigned because he too had made the RITA decision.
East Hendred 30 November 2021