Bishop 'club culture' will change with the first woman, says senior priest

Canon Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of BuckinghamREUTERS/Yui Mok/POOL

The first woman bishop must find a new way of being a bishop and not merely become a female version, according to a senior woman priest in the Church of England.

Bishops currently behave like "little boys lost" who "posture" that they know what they are doing and find it impossible to escape the gentlemen's club culture until they retire, said Canon Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham.

Speaking to Christian Today, Canon Harper repeated her call for the new Bishop of Oxford to be a woman. Over the weekend she told the BBC that appointing a woman as Bishop of Oxford was an opportunity that should not be wasted, following the retirement on Friday of The Rt Rev John Pritchard.

She said: "We've got to look to the future... obviously, you look for the best person for the job but having made the decision to have women bishops, the Church has to enact it not just leave it on the back burner. The face of the Church of England... is exclusively male and that needs to change very quickly."

Canon Harper, whose Twitter profile reads: "Thank God I was born a woman", enlarged on her comments to Christian Today. She said she hoped that women would be considered equally alongside men in the four diocesan vacancies and six suffragan vacancies currently coming up.

A public meeting in Oxford will be held at Christ Church on 11 November about the vacancy.

The women bishops legislation completed its passage through General Synod and Parliament this year and got Royal Assent last month.

The next stage will be in Synod on Monday November 17 when the Archbishop of Canterbury will move that the canon be enacted and that the motion will be put before the Synod for a vote with a show of hands but without a debate. Assuming the motion is carried, the presidents and other officers of the Synod will then sign the "Instrument of enactment." It will all take place in less than 15 minutes.

The Southwell and Nottingham CNC will be the first that can select a woman since their second meeting is not until December. Besides Oxford, Gloucester and Newcastle are also vacant. In terms of suffragans, which are appointed by diocesan bishops, the vacancies currently are Burnley, Dunwich, Hertford, Hull, Plymouth and Stockport. Aston will be added to the list when Andrew Watson goes to Guilford.

Canon Harper said: "I have no particular view about Oxford being the first, but I am very keen that it happens quickly so it does not stay theoretical but becomes real. Oxford has a fantastic team of people and is one of the best resourced dioceses in the country. They are also creative enough to create the new model of being a bishop."

One area where a woman bishop could improve on the male model is in terms of collaboration, she said. "There is such a strong sense currently of a club within the House of Bishops. Someone who could work primarily on the issues, rather than being yet another bishop looking out for all the other bishops, would be wonderful.

"At the moment they function like little boys lost, having to posture that they know what they are doing. Yet often they never get round to doing what they know in their hearts is the right thing."

She urged dioceses also to be fearless in their choice of the first woman bishop. "The temptation is to let the little girls have an easy one to try it out and get the hang of it."

A favourite for Oxford would be a senior cleric such as the Very Rev June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury since 2004.

She has vast experience running the cathedral but also understands the workings of the secular world, being deeply immersed in cultural and civil life in the city itself. "She has oodles more experience than many of the new male bishops and could also hold her own in a room of 42 guys," said Canon Harper.