At 8am on the day of the Consecration Service for the new Bishop of Lancaster the Minster was dappled in sunlight; silent, majestic but clearly waiting.
Saints and monarchs in stone girded up their loins to prepare for yet another landmark in the life of God’s Church in the north.
No-one who was in the Minster that day will forget the experience, especially the soon-to-be new Bishop of Lancaster.
The very fact that the new Bishop was consecrated in York before a congregation of many hundreds tells those with a sense of history how significant this day was – it was about the present linking to the past, a day of sunshine, solemn oaths, smiles and singing.
The great rivalry between the red and white rose now exists only on the cricket field and the sacred space of York Minster, witness to so many scenes of Christian drama in the past, had donned its best clothes for event.
The Minster began to fill with people from across the Pennines around 9am – including many of Lancashire’s clergy, parishioners and civic dignitaries. They were joined by the family, friends and former work colleagues of the new Bishop; all joyous beaming faces.
Throughout the morning quiet preparations for this landmark service took place in the cool corners of this most magnificent place of worship.
The Mayor and Mayoress of Burnley, Coun. Charles Briggs, and Mayoress Mrs Patricia Lunt, confronted with the size and scale of Yorkshire’s masterpiece, cannily opined: “Well, I suppose you’ve not got much else to do in Yorkshire apart from building something like this!”
As the clock ticked down to 11am, Bishop Jill’s predecessor, Rt Rev. Geoff Pearson, was all smiles outside the Minster with his wife Jean. Geoff knows Jill well, and focussing on the person at the centre of the day, he said: “I was thrilled that Jill was called to this post. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her at St Mellitus’ College and she will be a wonderful Bishop.”
Meanwhile, friends from Jill’s Liverpool days were bubbling in the sunshine: “She will be a brill Bishop,” said one, “She will bring so much to the people of Lancaster and beyond,” said another.
Everywhere, enthusiasm for the appointment was palpable. County Councillor Anne Cheetham, Chair of Lancashire County Council, said: “We are looking forward to working with the Bishop and will enjoy getting to know her in the next few months.”
Friends from Liverpool chipped in: “She will certainly shake things up,“ said one. “She is a spirit-filled dynamo,“ said another.
As the service began, led by the Archbishop of York, The Most Rev and Rt Hon. Dr John Sentamu, there was more praise and support.
The new Bishop’s sons, Robbie and Harry, made a fantastic job of the First Reading from the Bible. After they finished their proud mum gave her boys the thumbs-up as they were led from the pulpit by a verger.
The sermon, when it came, was preached by close friend Rev Kate Wharton, who, on the Feast of St Peter, talked admirably of the qualities needed by a true disciple of Christ and how confident she felt in God’s choice for the See of Lancaster.
There were many moments as the morning progressed: perhaps the most telling and emotional was the laying on of hands by Jill’s fellow Bishops as they crowded around her and the Archbishop at the altar during The Ordination Prayer.
This was followed by a wonderful moment of joy as the Archbishop invited the congregation to welcome their new bishop and spontaneous applause echoed around the ancient stones of York Minster.
The service drew to a close and the Bishops processed outside the West Door led by the Archbishop of York and the new Bishop of Lancaster. They stood for photographs, with Bishop Jill’s family alongside, in the baking midday sunshine.
Tourists and passers-by stopped in their tracks, surprise and indeed delight on their faces as some 40 or so Bishops – as well as Bishop Jill’s family – crowded together on the steps, still singing the closing hymn.
Cameras clicked, and within seconds pictures and videos of the new Bishop and her supporting entourage were being seen on phones and computers around the world.
Then it was on to a lunch at the nearby Central Methodist Hall in York.
Welcoming everyone to the lunch Jill’s new boss, the Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, joked as he asked those present to pray for him, as well as the new Bishop, given her matchless drive and enthusiasm!
Then Jill paid tribute to her family, husband Jeremy and her sons; to her now former St Mellitus College comrades, as well as the many others in the room she had worked with and been supported by over the years.
The infectious enthusiasm just rolled on and on as the afternoon unfolded and the mood of a wonderful day was summed by Bishop Julian when he said that Jill was ‘an exciting person, coming to an exciting team at an exciting time’.
Amen to that.
Feature written by Mark Ashley
Selected news coverage
Consecration communications team: Ronnie Semley, Diocesan Communications Manager; Dave Champness, Vision Coordinator; Clive Lawrence, photography; Mark Ashley, Diocesan Reporter (volunteer); Karen Ashcroft, Administrative Support and Owen Wheeler (video editing).
Collated links to further coverage:
29/30 June 2018