Justice cannot be subdivided

Julie Upton has written a letter, below, in response to the article [behind a paywall] Embracing the Church’s historic mission, in which Thomas Carpenter reasoned that:

Forced to chose between fidelity to the Church’s historic mission to the poor, and commitment to constant reinvention designed to suit the superficial lives of the rich, the Church has chosen the latter.

The original article explains that Philip North has seen how to keep faithful to the mission to the poor and eschew ecclesial reinvention and so;

It is because [Bishop Philip] might make a different choice from that of most recently appointed bishops, and not because of his stance on women’s ordination, that Bishop North’s appointment matters.

Letter to the Church Times (unpublished as of 2/3/17)

Sir –

I welcome Thomas Carpenter’s article (Comment – CT 17 Feb 2017) affirming the value of the Church’s ministry in the urban areas, estates and pit villages of the Sheffield Diocese and asserting the importance of the Church nationally to redistribute its resources to ensure its continuing presence in these areas. However, it raises issues that require further debate and challenge.

Firstly, whilst Bishop Philip North undoubtedly brings a track record of championing “poorer” areas and challenging injustice, the experience of recent decades (vide “Bias to the Poor”, “Faith in the City”, “Blessed Are the Poor” and more) makes it clear that this is a bigger task than any one Diocese or Bishop can achieve. There is a long line of Bishops who have challenged the establishment but the imbalance in the allocation of resources remains.   Reversing this trend requires the shared commitment of the whole church, lay and ordained.   It is neither realistic nor desirable to impose this expectation on one person, which seems to be an underlying assumption of the article.

Secondly, Dr Carpenter seeks to use the undoubted importance of “restoring the Church’s historic mission to the poor” to mask and minimise the relevance of Bishop Philip’s stance on the ordination of women as priests and bishops.   Local people from both church and the wider community in this large urban / estate parish have been expressing confusion and concern since Bp Philip’s nomination was announced as Bishop of Sheffield. They see his unwillingness to ordain women as priests as a challenge to their understanding of justice, fairness and equal opportunity and find it difficult to reconcile with an inclusive church or faith.

It is therefore false to suggest that one of these issues can be seen as less important than the other.   Both raise difficulties for the Church’s ministry and mission. Both are issues of justice, and justice cannot be subdivided.

Rev Canon Julie Upton

Team Rector, Sheffield Manor Parish


The Manor parish staff team made a public statement in February about the nomination announcement for the See of Sheffield.