Philip Mawer

Sir Philip Mawer’s Report, as Independent Reviewer, on the non-appointment of Bishop Philip North to the Diocese of Sheffield describes what happened in, as has been noted elsewhere, ‘measured tones’.

Much attention is paid to the personal challenge it was to Bishop Philip, and one feels great sympathy for him. It must have been awful. The Report also pays close attention to the part played by Professor Martyn Percy’s article on the Modern Church website and the impact it had on the eventual outcome.

The Report pays quite a lot of attention to the short comings of the process, the outworking of the five Guiding Principles, and to recommendations for further work and thought. It was good to see an explicit reference to the need to do some more serious theology; something which Modern Church would wish to support.

I hope in all their deliberations, the House of Bishops, the Faith and Order Group and whoever else gets involved will pay some attention to the mission implications of this. It is desperately important that they do.

Jeremy Paxman may think the Church of England addresses issues such as these with ‘reasonableness’ (see my blog on Paxman), but large numbers of people do not share that view on this or many other issues. They simply see a church which is so focused on its own navel that it cannot see that most people have stopped being interested in what it has to say on anything. This is a profound failure of mission.

Mission is not about the internal arguments of the Church of England: these are often so bizarre and arcane – and sometimes so downright odd – that they leave people outside indifferent and sometimes angry. Every time the Church of England descends limply into its own processes and sets up yet another committee to keep the fudge going for as long as possible, it opens the gap between itself and the people to whom it would proclaim the Gospel of God’s love in Christ even further. The Church of England is sometimes so far away from the people of this land that we can no longer be heard.

Neither is mission about telling people what you want them to hear. More than hearing that God loves them, most people would like to see that I love them - as they are, fully, gratuitously and without qualification: not love if – if you don’t do this or if you believe that. Most people would like to see that my love for them accepts them, and does not tolerate them. Loving in the way that God loves is mission. All this is absent from the Report and the debate.

The debacle of Sheffield, and the Report about it, is a failure of mission more even than it is a failure of process. The women are not the problem; Bishop North is not the problem: our inability to see the real mission issues at stake in it is.