Being a woman isn’t the only thing that makes the new Bishop of London different from her predecessor
It came as little surprise to anyone that the new Bishop of London is a woman. In a denomination fraught with division and obsessed with appearing to advocate equality, the appointment of Sarah Mullally, 55, to the third most senior office in the Church of England was an inevitability. Currently the Bishop of Crediton, a suffragan bishopric in the Diocese of Exeter, Sarah Mullally will be installed in the new year. She will no doubt usher in a new style of leadership for the Diocese of London; apart from the obvious gender difference, she is about as different to her predecessor as it’s possible to be.
For one thing, she had a career in the secular workplace before entering church ministry. Unlike Lord Chatres, who began ordination training immediately after completing his undergraduate studies, Sarah Mullally trained as a nurse and worked through the ranks of the NHS, eventually becoming Chief Nursing Officer. Her work for the Department of Health earned her a Damehood in the 2005 New Years Honours list. As for her personal life, well, Bishop Sarah is married not only to an Irishman but a former Catholic. It’s a far cry from the days when such a union would have been called apostasy.
Her education, too, sets her apart from her predecessor. Lord Chartres was educated at a grammar school, followed by Trinity College, Cambridge, and Cuddesdon and Lincoln theological colleges. Meanwhile, Bishop Sarah went to a local comprehensive in Woking before undertaking her nursing training at South Bank Polytechnic. Theologically she differs from Chartres in various ways. Chartres was relatively conservative and high church. He refused to ordain male and female ordinands in a nod of respect to those conservatives who opposed the ordination of women. I can’t foresee Bishop Sarah making the same concessions somehow. She is nominally evangelical, not dissimilar to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but remains classically evasive on the subject of the ordination of gay clergy; she abstained in the last vote on the matter.
The biggest challenge for Bishop Sarah will be to keep the evangelicals on side despite her unclear views on homosexuality and the fact that she’s a woman. Evangelical churches are the fastest growing and boast the highest levels of financial giving of all the churches in London. Yet many of them are opposed to the ordination of gay clergy and indeed the appointment of women as bishops. Lord Chartres maintained the balance exceptionally well, offering concessions to evangelicals whilst appeasing the liberals on other issues. If Bishop Sarah wishes to oversee an unbroken diocese, she will have to learn to do the same.