Bishop Stephen gives thanks for the See of Beverley

In recent weeks the national and church press, along with social media, have been full of pictures and articles celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood within the Church of England. Those first ordinations in 1994 were momentous occasions in the life of the church and the individuals themselves. I hope that we have been able to join those for whom this was and is a wonderful pilgrimage in their Christian vocation. Speaking personally, I am thankful for the friendship, support, encouragement and love that I have received throughout my ministry from so many of my ordained sisters.

Less well reported was the thirtieth anniversary of the consecration of the first Bishop of Beverley in the modern era on 7 March this year, and therefore the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the See of Beverley. (And a wonderful opportunity to thank Bishop John Gaisford for his ministry and congratulate him on this milestone as we were able to recently in Manchester Cathedral.)

Personally, I am so thankful for the ministry and support of Society Bishops, priests, deacons and people who have helped mould me into the person I am today – for their friendship, support, encouragement and love.

During these thirty years, we have, together as a church, encountered both sadness and joy, division and reconciliation, brokenness and healing: not just within ourselves, but with and alongside our Monarchs, our nation, the family of nations and the universal church.

These thirty years are, however, only 1.5% of Christian history, and 0.01% (approximately) of the history of homo sapiens. My calculator didn’t have enough screen space to allow me to work out the percentage in relation to the estimated age of the universe. It will be an unimaginably small number.

The point is this, these last thirty years – or for that matter the 500 years or so of the Church of England’s separate existence and the 2024 years or thereabouts of the Church Catholic – are insignificant when we consider the larger context into which we are placed.

God has been present from the beginning: In the beginning, God is the introduction to the biblical canon (Genesis 1.1).

And, for us as Christians, St John teaches in his Gospel that the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ, was In the beginning, and without him not one thing came into being. Furthermore, what has come into being in him, was life (1.1-5, 14).

When we put our faith, our trust, our hope in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, we are not putting our trust in what we may have learned over a thirty-year period or even a two-thousand-year period. We are putting our faith, trust and hope in the One through whom all things came into being, in the One who is beyond the scope of our imagination.

And yet with the Psalmist we sing forever of your love, O Lord, you are my Father (Psalm 89).

The timeless and unbounded One, is the One we call Father. The Psalmist learned this generations before the miracle and mystery of the Incarnation, when Jesus taught us that we may call God ‘Father’. That is because, as St Paul teaches, it is the Holy Spirit of God who enables people to do just that: we have received the Spirit of adoption…by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Romans 8.16), and again, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ (Galatians 4.6).

We can only hint at the immensity of God. But, along with the saints, the Blessed Mother and all that the Church has to offer, through its hints and feebleness, it points to and speaks of Jesus Christ who is God’s self-revelation, of Jesus Christ who is the revelation of God’s eternal purpose for life, God’s purpose for us.

We, as Christians, have willingly bound ourselves to Jesus. And in so doing we have willingly bound ourselves to his purposes, which have been there from the beginning.

What are those purposes? Again, let us remember St John’s words: what has come into being in him, was life. Life, and, dare I suggest it, the meaning of life, is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus left his Church the gift of Baptism and the Eucharist, together with the gift of deacons, priests and bishops, and all the sacraments conferred or communicated through them, that we may have life; that we may in turn give life to others.

Thank God for Bishop John, his successors in the See of Beverley, and it all has brought to the life of the Church in this age and our own Catholic witness.