County News: Bishop will support women bishops in shock shift in theology

The Bishop of Horsham announced today (June 10) that he has stepped down from a traditionalists’ committee following a period of strenuous theological reflection over the issue of women bishops.

Bishop of Horsham Mark Sowerby.
Bishop of Horsham Mark Sowerby.

The Rt Rev Mark Sowerby has resigned from the Society’s Council of Bishops, which has long held the thinking that women should not be ordained as priests, deacons and bishops in the Church of England.

Bishop Mark, who presides over parishes in Crawley, Horsham, Mid Sussex and the South Downs, said today that he now wishes to accept women into all these roles.

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As a consequence Bishop Mark has written a personal letter to the Bishop of Wakefield, Chair of the Council. It states: “It is only after a deal of soul-searching and with a measure of personal pain, that I am writing to tender my resignation as a member of The Society’s Council of Bishops.”

The society is an ecclesiastical body led by a Council of Bishops. Its purpose is to promote and maintain catholic teaching and practice within the Church of England.

The letter outlines Bishop Mark’s position, which he has obviously arrived at after much prayer and soul searching.

The Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner said: “Bishop Mark’s shift in theological outlook on the ordination of women priests and bishops is a costly one.

“All who know and respect him will understand the serious struggle with conscience that will have led to his decision.

“We respect his honesty and applaud his courage. For some of those he serves it will be a development that they cannot follow, and that will be painful; for others, this news will be greeted with relief and considerable rejoicing.

Bishop Mark will continue to minister in the diocese as suffragan bishop of Horsham.

Traditionalists who have looked to him for sacramental ministry will still have available to them the pastoral care and oversight of the diocesan bishop.

Future arrangements for the oversight of ordination in this diocese had already been agreed, prior to Bishop Mark’s decision. All ordinations to the diaconate and to the priesthood will take place in the Cathedral; all three bishops will participate in the ordinations, in ways that respect the theological conscience of those present.

This will follow the precedent set by the Archbishop of York in the arrangements for the episcopal ordination of Libby Lane as bishop of Stockport and Philip North as bishop of Burnley.

Bishop Martin concluded: “Within the household of faith, we are committed to the trust and respect for theological conscience that undergirds the Five Guiding Principles of the House of Bishops’ Declaration.

“We seek the greatest degree of communion possible in our apostolic life of faith, of hope and of love. We ask for God’s continued blessing on Bishop Mark in proclaiming and nurturing the call to know, love, follow Jesus.”

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