CofE priest elected bishop in New Zealand remembers her Durham roots

Jim and Pat Francis with a picture of their daughter, the Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, who has been elected as the new Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand(Photo: Keith Blundy)

The Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley has made history as the first woman ordained within the Church of England to become a bishop.

She has just been elected as the next Anglican Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand, succeeding Archbishop David Moxon, who has become the Anglican Communion's ambassador to Rome.

Dr Hartley, 40, becomes the seventh Bishop of Waikato and is the first woman to hold the office.

She was born in Edinburgh but grew up in Sunderland, where her family moved when she was still a child.

They attended St Chad's church in East Herrington and her father moved from the Church of Scotland to the Church of England in the Diocese of Durham in 1987.

Dr Hartley attended Benedict Biscop Primary School then St Anthony's secondary school, both in Sunderland, before going to study at St Andrew's University in Scotland.

She is the fourth generation of her family to be ordained, becoming a priest in the Diocese of Oxford in 2005. After her ordination, she was part of a team ministering to 12 rural Oxfordshire parishes and became Director of Biblical Studies and a lecturer in the New Testament at the theological college, Ripon College Cuddesdon, near Oxford.

In 2010 she moved to New Zealand to undertake research at St John's College, Auckland, and returned in February 2011 to take up the position as Dean of Tikanga Pakeha students at the college.

Despite her experience as a clergywoman in Oxfordshire and her subsequent appointments thousands of miles away from home, she still cherishes the part Durham Diocese has played in her spiritual formation.

"Although I was ordained in Oxford Diocese, my journey began in Durham Diocese, and it was there that my vocation was nurtured," she said.

"St Chad's in East Herrington, Benedict Biscop CofE school, and my years as an acolyte in Durham Cathedral all played a vital role in my formation, and so Durham Diocese remains very much my spiritual home. I have so much to give thanks for in its people, places, and rich heritage."

The Durham connection remains strong as her parents, Jim and Pat Francis live in nearby Bowburn. Mr Francis was formerly an Honorary Non Residentiary Canon at Durham Cathedral and Mrs Francis is still a steward there.

One from the album: A picture of the Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley as a baby with her proud parents, Pat and Jim Francis(Photo: Keith Blundy)

They believe their daughter's upbringing in the region played a key role in leading her to a career in the clergy.

Mr Francis said: "I think the welcome we received at St Chads when we came to Sunderland had a strong influence on Helen-Ann. We were made to feel at home as a family and I think that had an effect on her.

"At a young age, she wrote to Durham Cathedral, asking to be an acolyte, something she did for several years.

"We are deeply grateful for what she has achieved and that the diocese in New Zealand has discerned her giftedness."

Mrs Francis said said: "It's pleasing that all three of us have this connection with Durham Cathedral.

"What has happened to her is awesome. We are extremely proud of what she has achieved."

The Bishop of Waikato is an office within the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, and jurisdiction of the diocese is shared with the Bishop of Taranaki, presently Philip Richardson, who is also Archbishop of the New Zealand Dioceses.

Dr Hartley said: "I hope my election will be an encouragement for supporters of the ordination of women to the episcopate.

"All people, irrespective of gender, are able to witness to the gospel. Both women and men are entrusted with that sacred task."

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