The Church of England has appointed its first female bishop of London. The Right Reverend Sarah Mullally, who takes over the role from the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, will become the most third most senior bishop in the Church of England.
The appointment means she will automatically take a seat in the House of Lords. The post-holder is traditionally Dean of the Chapels Royal.
Among those who welcomed the appointment was the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who said: "Today I congratulate the Rt Rev Sarah Mullally DBE on her appointment as the Bishop of London. I assure her of my prayers as she prepares to take up leadership in the thriving Diocese of London. I look forward to our partnership in making Christ known in this diverse and unsleeping city."
At a press conference held at St Paul’s Cathedral this morning, Bishop Sarah said that she was aware the appointment of a woman bishop might be “difficult” for some.
She said: “I am very respectful of those who for theological reasons cannot accept my role as a priest or as a bishop. My belief is that the Church diversity throughout London should flourish and grow. Everybody should be able to find to find a spiritual home, and actually those that minister should minister in a way in which they do it to the best of their ability.”
She added: “I do believe that London could be a gift to the rest of the Church of England to really demonstrate how unity can work.”
The Church ordained its first woman bishop, Libby Lane, in 2015. The former bishop of London, Richard Chartres did not ordain women priests.
Bishop Sarah, who is currently Bishop of Crediton, in Devon, having been consecrated two years ago, said she “came both surprised and delighted” to the role.
A former nurse, she rose to become chief nursing officer for England and was made a dame for services to nursing in 2005. She was ordained as priest in 2001 and served her curacy in St Saviour’s Battersea Fields, initially as a self-supporting minister, before subsequently taking up full-time ministry in the London Borough of Sutton.
She said she was often asked what it has been like to have had two careers, first in the NHS and then in the church.
"I prefer to think that I have always had one vocation: to follow Jesus Christ, to know him and to make him known, always seeking to live with compassion in the service of others, whether as a nurse, a priest, or a bishop,” she said.
“To be given the opportunity to do that now in this vibrant world-city is a wonderful privilege.”
On the subject of gay marriage, she said Church of England teaching was "very clear about marriage and I absolutely support that.”
However, she also stressed the importance of inclusivity, saying: “We have to remember that this is about people and there is for me a sense that all of us come under the love of god in Christ Jesus and we need to ensure that we remember it.”
Bishop Sarah said that having lived and worked in London for over 32 years, “the thought of returning here is about returning home.” She said she believed that the church in London “was in good heart”.
She said the responses to the Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks over the past year had shown how people had the ability to come together.
She said: “That’s the light that shines in darkness and the darkness won’t overcome it.” She added: “As a bishop in the House of Lords, I want to be a voice for people on the margins. As the bishop of London, I’ll be pointing out where there is hope.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has welcomed her appointment.
"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."
Following the announcement Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, offered his congratulations.
"Today I congratulate the Rt Rev Sarah Mullally DBE on her appointment as the Bishop of London. I assure her of my prayers as she prepares to take up leadership in the thriving Diocese of London," he said.
"I look forward to our partnership in making Christ known in this diverse and unsleeping city."
Bishop Sarah will be installed as the 133rd Bishop of London at St Paul’s Cathedral in the New Year.
Who is Sarah Mullally, the new Bishop of London?
Dame Sarah Mullally, 55, is the current Bishop of Crediton. As newly appointed 133rd Bishop of London, she is the first woman to take the role (Alex Daniel writes).
Before becoming a priest she was the most senior nurse in the country, advising Tony Blair and his cabinet on NHS policy from 1999 to 2004 as Chief Nursing Officer for England at the Department of Health.
At 37, she was the youngest person ever to hold the post, and was made a Dame in 2005 for her contribution to nursing and midwifery. In 2009, she told the Church Times that she was proud to have led a “culture change” in the health service, introducing the first patient survey in Europe.
A Christian from the age of 16, she trained part-time for Anglican ministry, and became a deacon in 2001 then a priest in 2002. She became the Church of England’s fourth woman bishop, the Bishop of Crediton, in 2015, and that same year became the first woman to lead an ordination service when she ordained four clergy, three women and a man.
Her appointment gives her an automatic seat in the House of Lords, and the Bishop of London is also traditionally dean of the royal chapels. She is seen within the Church as a modernizer, and is a prolific Twitter user, tweeting more than any other Church of England bishop, according to Premier.
She told The Telegrapyn in 2015 that while the Church of England should take declining numbers seriously, empty pews are not the end of the world because people will still “encounter god” without attending formal services.
The daughter of a hairdresser, she wanted to be an artist or a hairdresser herself until choosing her A-levels aged 16, when she decided she wanted to give “holistic care”. She married her husband Eamonn Mullally in 1987, and they have two adult children, Grace and Liam.
Bishop Sarah is an amateur potter, which she took up “mostly to encourage my daughter”, and is also dyslexic.
She trained as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital and studied at South Bank Polytechnic, now London South Bank University, later specialising in cancer care. Since her time as chief nursing officer, she has been a non-executive director at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust then at Salisbury NHS Foundation Hospital. She is also a member of council at King’s College London University.
She has drawn parallels between her careers in ministry and nursing, and said in this morning’s press conference: “I prefer to think that I have always had one vocation: to follow Jesus Christ, to know him and to make him known, always seeking to live with compassion in the service of others, whether as a nurse, a priest, or a bishop.”
PICTURE: Bishop Sarah pictured outside of St Paul's Cathedral ©PA