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Diocese of Blackburn
World News

"He helped me find my voice": Female bishop responds to controversy over new Bishop of Blackburn

by Heather Preston

The appointment of the new Bishop of Blackburn has been met with some controversy within the Church due to his views on female ordination, with some groups calling it "deplorable".

Rt Rev Philip North was announced as the 10th Bishop of Blackburn on Tuesday to succeed Rt Rev Julian Henderson following his retirement last year.

Speaking of his appointment, Bishop Philip said he plans to “labour tirelessly” to build and grow the church and “joyful Christian communities”. He also wants to focus on the needs of young people and see the C of E be a stronger voice for justice.

The Suffragan Bishop of Burnley had two previous opportunities for promotion thwarted following protests over his traditional views of refusing to ordain women as priests and Bishops.

In 2017 he declined the role of Bishop of Sheffield following comments from the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford who said the appointment would “cause significant pastoral and public damage."

Following his 2023 appointment, campaign group for gender equality in the C of E Women and the Church (WATCH) released a statement declaring it did not support the move.

"We recognise Bishop Philip’s many gifts and are aware that he has been supportive of women in a range of ministerial posts in the Church, some at senior levels.

"Nonetheless, Bishop Philip does not recognise the ordination of women as priests and bishops and will be the first diocesan bishop to be appointed with his theological position on the ordination of women since women were permitted to be bishops in 2014.

"In that light, WATCH cannot support the nomination," it said.

The group cited a number of concerns including: females struggling to flourish under his oversight, undermining the authority of female vicars, impacting women's ministry and creating disunity within the House of Bishops. 

In a tweet, the church network Inclusive Church deemed the appointment "deplorable".

Responding to the controversy, Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Jill Duff told Premier that she has always found Bishop Philip "immensely encouraging" in helping her "find her voice."

"I am delighted by the nomination of Philip North as bishop of Blackburn - I've worked closely with him over the last five years and have found he's immensely encouraged me, supported me and helped me find my voice. He's a very, very welcome choice as our tenth Bishop of Blackburn.  

"I'm so conscious that some people would disagree with his nomination. But my experience is that there's so much more that unites us than divides us, as a church, his appointment is completely within our agreed processes.

"I think the posture of mutual flourishing where we disagree on things that are very close to our heart is something that will bring life and hope to the church.

"Rather than closing down conversations, we can work together when we disagree on things and by these experiences make more room for the work of the spirit who brings unity."

Speaking following his appointment Bishop Jill said: "I believe that Philip is called for such a time as this to lead the Diocese of Blackburn, cherishing the diversity of opinion, theology and background that our county has always welcomed.

"He loves to see others flourish and find their voice – especially young people and those on the margins."

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