The former Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Sarah Mullally, who was first ordained to serve as a non-stipendiary minister, has today been named as the next Bishop of London. When she is enthroned in the New Year, she will become the most senior female bishop in the Church of England, and will become a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK Parliament; and the Privy Council, the ancient body which formally advises British sovereign on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. Mullally, who currently serves as the Bishop of Crediton, in the Diocese of Exeter, succeeds Bishop Richard Chartres, who retired in February.
Having trained as a nurse, Bishop Sarah worked in the health service before moving to the British’s government’s health ministry as Chief Nursing Officer for England in 1999. Two years’ later, she was ordained and served her curacy in St Saviour’s, Battersea Fields, in the Diocese of Southwark. She was appointed as a non-stipendiary, or self-supporting, minister; before leaving her civil service role to taking up full time ministry as Team Rector of the Sutton Team Ministry, based at St Nicholas’ Church in Sutton, south London. In 2012 she was appointed Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral; and was consecrated to serve as Bishop of Creditor in 2015.
She was the youngest person to be appointed Chief Nursing Officer for England. She, with the Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, was part of the first ordination service in Canterbury Cathedral of women to the episcopate. She was the first woman in the Church of England to lead an ordination service when she ordained two deacons to the priesthood at St Mary's Church in Ottery St Mary, Devon. And now she is the first woman to be appointed bishop of one of the five senior sees in the Church of England: Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester
Bishop Sarah said that she was “both delighted and slightly terrified” at the nomination to serve as Bishop of London, adding that it would be like “returning home”, having lived and worked in London for more than 32 years.
“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,” she said in a statement. “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.”
In her statement, she spoke of the “huge hunger for spirituality and for new ways of being Church” and the “strong record of growth” in London. “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.”
She said that “there are some who will find the appointment of a bishop who is a woman difficult”, adding: “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.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, welcomed Bishop Sarah’s appointment, saying that she “brings to this remarkable ministry in this great city an extraordinary experience and profound gifts which are guided by her faith in Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of all that she is.
“In her calling as a Bishop she has demonstrated that she is a shepherd of God’s people, a guardian of the Christian faith and someone with a passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others through her teaching and her actions. . . As one of the first women consecrated as a bishop in the Church of England, she has not only blazed a trail for others but lived out the principles of mutual flourishing and acceptance which I know will continue to bear fruit in London.”
The Acting Bishop of London, the Area Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, also welcomed the appointment, saying: “Along with the rest of my colleagues in the Senior Staff, I welcome the announcement of Bishop Sarah’s appointment and look forward with excitement to working under her leadership as our Diocesan Bishop.”
In an ad clerum to clergy in the diocese, he said: “Bishop Sarah has proven qualities of leadership and commitment to collaborative working. Her work in the public square uniquely equips her for the important outward focus that is required in leading the Diocese in this great World City. She also brings strong experience of parish and cathedral life, and sees her vocational experience as nurse, civil servant, priest, and bishop as a totality.
“This is an exciting time in the life of the Diocese of London as we seek, under God, to build on the strong legacy left by Bishop Richard and to develop Capital Vision 2020 on into the next decade. As a Diocese, we have been successful in receiving several tranches of Strategic Development Funding, and we have much to do to develop the life of both traditional parishes and church plants, chaplaincies, and niche congregations. Bishop Sarah will challenge us to think afresh about what is involved in the re-evangelisation of London and the ways in which we engage with our city with confidence, compassion, and creativity.”
Within the Church of England, bishops are recommended by Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), a body which comprises members of the General Synod and the local diocese. Their nomination is sent to the Prime Minister’s office, 10 Downing Street, before being forwarded to The Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, for approval. This morning’s announcement was made by 10 Downing Street before elaboration by the diocese. A review into the workings of the CNC has been undertaken and will be debated by the General Synod when it next meets in February 2018.