Last Monday, the Bishop of Stockport was consecrated in York Minster, with an exceptional number of bishops queuing to lay hands on her. It was a glorious and joyful day, and the necessary elements of the sacrament were present – the authorised liturgy, the appropriate symbols, the intention of the ministers and people, and the willing heart of the recipient.
Hooker, the 16th century theologian who defined so much of what it is to be an Anglican, admitted that it was not possible for the human mind to understand how a sacrament is effective, describing a sacrament as a “visible signs of invisible grace.”
The consecration of Philip North as Bishop of Burnley next Monday will be a more muted affair, and Archbishop Sentamu has decided to withdraw from laying on hands during the service. But do we as Anglicans really believe in apostolic succession in such a linear way? If Sentamu was recognised as provincial archbishop and could consecrate last month, if the elements are present, how will his abstinence from the laying on of hands help? We are in a theological mess. The archbishops have not brought this to be discussed by Synod, and a damaging precedent is being set.