Message to the Diocese from Bishop Sarah – the next Bishop of London

May God the Son, come among us in power and reveal in our midst the promise of His glory. Amen

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I have to admit that I am both delighted and slightly terrified at being nominated to the See of London. I have lived and worked for over 32 years in London (although I have to confess for some of that it was south of the river so I hope you will forgive me). So returning to London is for me returning home.

Having made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as a teenager, in the words of the hymn by Horatio Bonnar, I have found in Jesus Christ my Star and Sun. Jesus Christ has been good news for me and I look forward to sharing that with others as I come to London.

I am often asked ‘What is it like to have had two careers?’ First as nurse and the Government’s Chief Nursing Officer for England, then as priest and Bishop. I respond by saying, ‘Rather than having two careers I have had one vocation – to follow Jesus Christ, to know him and to make him known.’ I have always sought to live in the service of others. Washing feet is a powerful image which has shaped my vocation. As a nurse the way we wash feet affords dignity, respect and value. As a priest I am called to model Jesus Christ, who took off his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet. As Bishop consecrated to be the shepherd of the flock and committed to those in my care I keep that model of service before me, seeking to serve others and value them. To be able to do that here in London is a wonderful privilege.

London is a world-facing city which is multi-cultural and multi-faith. It is both cosmopolitan and suburban, economically successful and confident. It is a city of energy and diversity: London is open to all.

But it is also a city of inequality and deprivation; where women are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to be employed than a man; where a woman in Tower Hamlets will live 30 years in poor health and a man in Enfield only 12 years. It is a city where the number of people living alone will rise by over 50% in the next 25 years.

It is also a city where people feel ignored, marginalised and angry. These emotions, among many others, were present here in St Paul’s last week for the Grenfell National Memorial Service. People of all faiths and of none stood together to remember those who had died, to support the bereaved families and to offer a way forward for those who survived. But the unity we witnessed doesn’t mean the issues that so urgently need addressing have been resolved.

Though the time when people default to claiming adherence to the Church of England, or Christianity, may be over, there is a huge hunger for spirituality and for new ways of being Church. Nowhere in the country is that more evident than here in London, where we have seen a strong record of growth. The vision for the Church of England is to a Christian presence in every community – churches confident in prayer, confident in speaking about and living out their faith in Jesus Christ with a generosity of spirit and compassion, creatively working in partnership with their communities.

This aspiration is resulting in creating new worship centres which are relevant and reflect their communities. In London, the Diocese is halfway towards its target of creating 100 new worshipping communities by 2020. Churches such as Holy Trinity Brompton and St Helen’s Bishopsgate are growing and planting, while, just last month, London’s first new parish church for 40 years, St Francis, opened in Tottenham.

Relevant church communities means increased numbers of church leaders who are women and come from Black and Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. It means churches at the heart of their community asking, ‘What can we do together to be stronger?’ It means working together for the community’s wellbeing, looking for solutions to the challenges which face them – creating strong resilient communities. Churches confident in faith, compassionate in action and creative in partnership come about when local ministers are supported to be the best they can and members of their congregations are encouraged to flourish and be ambassadors for their faith. We speak of the Church being compassionate in action but we also need to be compassionate to each other, and central to this is how we support local ministers to maintain their wellbeing. I look forward to enabling this to happen along with the Area Bishops, the Bishop of Fulham, the Bishop of Islington and the Assistant Bishop Rod Thomas.

The Church is called to reflect the nature of Jesus Christ, the nature of God and I believe that we are called to be places of safety – places in which people can take refuge. This is why I believe that safeguarding is at the heart of the gospel and I will seek not only to exercise responsibility for safeguarding but I will continue to ensure a safe culture in which abuse has no place, and where those who have survived abuse can flourish.

I know that there are some who will find the appointment of a bishop who is a woman difficult. I fully respect those who for theological reasons cannot accept my ministry as a priest or bishop. In a diverse city like London, it is right that the Church reflects the diversity of the tradition of the Church of England. I would hope that everyone can find a spiritual home within this diversity and working in partnership with the College of Bishops, I hope that this diversity will flourish and we can be a model to the rest of the Church of England of unity. We speak about being a compassionate church and we need to show that compassion to one another, even when we may disagree.

I look forward to meeting with those who reflect the diversity of the church in London over the coming weeks to speak of how we can work alongside each other for the gospel and how I can support them in their ministry.

In coming to London, I leave the Diocese of Exeter, and I am grateful for the privilege of having worked alongside wonderful people as we shared the good news of the gospel, where over the past two years, the Church has also grown in number. I am particularly grateful for the support of Bishop Robert.

In London, it is a privilege to follow Richard Chartres. Under his oversight for over 20 years, London has seen confidence return and church life revived. I am also excited by joining such a strong College of Bishops who are inspiring partners in the gospel – I am grateful for their welcome and support.

The Church of England in the Diocese of London is in good heart – a Christian presence at the heart of every community, churches confident to speak and live out their faith in Jesus Christ, compassionate in action and creatively working in partnership with others to build strong and diverse communities – I look forward to serving the people of London with joy.