The new Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, has emphasised the Church's traditional teaching on marriage and talked of her respect for conservatives who oppose women priests in carefully balanced comments that may still disappoint her liberal supporters.
Conceding that the sexuality question 'is a challenging issue not just for diocese of London' she reiterated the Church's position that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The comments to journalists come after a conservative church in the capital hinted that it could break away from the Church of England unless the new Bishop of London is orthodox on sexuality. William Taylor, the Rector at St Helen's Bishopgate, last week said his first question to the new Bishop of London would be to ask whether they are prepared to 'declare as sin what God calls sin' and to summon sinners to repentance.
Earlier, in a self-assured performance at a press conference at St Paul's Cathedral today, Mullally further reached out to conservatives who oppose women priests and bishops on theological grounds, saying she was 'respectful' of their position, while insisting that the Church must appoint more female and ethnic clergy.
Declaring herself 'delighted and slightly terrified' at the news, her statement focused on the role of women and ethnic minorities in the Church while avoiding comment on sexuality issues.
'I am very respectful to those [who] for theological reasons cannot accept my role as a priest or a bishop,' she said, adding, 'I am very aware that the appointment of a woman who is a bishop may be difficult.' However, she said: 'Churches need to represent the communities that they serve,' including women, black and ethnic minorities and disabled people.
Mullally emphasised that London is 'world-facing, multicultural, multi-faith [and]...open to all'. She talked of the 'deprivation and inequality' in the capital, where 'women are more likely to be unemployed'. She added that 'people feel marginalised' and added that anger remained over the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Repeatedly evoking the image of foot-washing as a metaphor for her desire to serve, she said: 'It is a great honour to be nominated to the See of London. Having lived and worked in London for over 32 years, the thought of returning here is about returning home. I am often asked what it has been like to have had two careers, first in the NHS and now 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. To be given the opportunity to do that now in this vibrant world-city is a wonderful privilege.'
She added that she wanted 'to serve' as 'a bishop not just of London but for London and for those who have faith and [those who have] no faith'.
Mullally, who said she was 'surprised' by her appointment, is being introduced to representatives from across the Diocese of London at St Paul's Cathedral this morning, before meeting staff and students at the Urswick Secondary School in Hackney, where 70 per cent of pupils are eligible for Pupil Premium Funding. As part of an initial tour of some of the parishes and projects at work in the Diocese, she will also be visiting a food bank preparing Christmas packages at St John's in Hoxton and she will be introduced to leaders from the Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum, to discuss unity, solidarity, and the challenges that London's faith communities face together.
The group Women and the Church (WATCH) said it was 'immensely delighted' at the appointment.
The acting Bishop of London, Pete Broadbent said: 'I welcome the announcement of Bishop Sarah's appointment and look forward with excitement to working under her leadership as our diocesan bishop. She has proven qualities of leadership and commitment to collaborative working. Bishop Sarah's 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.'