Libby's statement at Stockport Town Hall

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undefinedThe Revd Libby Lane, on being announced as the next Bishop of Stockport, made this statement at Stockport Town Hall

Before Libby began her speech she called for prayers for the dead in Pakistan and also for other troubled spots around the world. The whole room stood and prayed.

Thank you +Peter for such generous words of introduction. Good Morning.

It is an unexpected joy to be here today.
It is a remarkable day for me, and, I realise, an historic day for the church.
I am honoured and thankful to be called to serve as the next Bishop of Stockport and excited, though somewhat daunted, to be entrusted with such a ministry.

I am conscious this morning of countless women and men who, for decades, have looked forward to the time when the Church of England would announce its first woman Bishop. I am very conscious of those, recognised and unrecognised, who have prayed and worked and struggled for this moment, and I pray that today honours them.

I am grateful for the confidence placed in me by the Diocese of Chester, and to those whose support, encouragement and discernment have brought us to this place.

But most of all I am thankful to God, that all I am and all I do is rooted in Jesus, who calls us to follow him and promises to be with us wherever he leads.

Today’s announcement comes on the day when the Church of England commemorates the life and work of Eglantyne Jebb - the founder of Save the Children; a remarkable woman whose passion and conviction, nearly a hundred years ago, galvanised the churches, and through them the nation, to transformative social action on behalf of the most vulnerable.

I am pleased that the announcement of my nomination comes on the day that the church honours such an inspirational woman.

It is a timely reminder that whatever impact this announcement may have, I stand in a long line of women and men whose faithful, self-giving service has changed the world for good.

Today, I pray, will not simply be about this one woman called to a new ministry in the church, but more than that an opportunity to acknowledge all that has gone before, and to look ahead to what is still to be done.

My journey here began more than 35 years ago when I was loved into faith, at the age of 11, by a small Anglican church community in rural Derbyshire.

They ‘adopted’ me, as a child turning up to church on my own, into their extended family; they showed me Jesus, and valued and nurtured my gifts. They taught me to know and love the Bible, to pray and to serve Christ in others.

Their acceptance of me was a sacrament of God’s acceptance of me, and the heart of my faith as a child of God loved, accepted and valued in Christ – the security and hope that offers me, I owe to that small corner of the Church of England. 

And my continuing prayer is that the Church of England offers everywhere - in ways fit for every place and time, through the worship, witness and service, through the lives well lived of her people, that transforming love.

I rejoice that the Church of England can be the context in which ordinary people come to know and love God in Christ, living out their faith in their homes, among their neighbours, in their places of work and leisure, as well as their places of worship.

But also the Church of England has capacity for influence in the life of the wider community as together we serve Christ in the service of others; in schools, in social action, in creative use of our buildings, in partnership for good with other agencies.

I remain convinced that we have, as an institution, a vocation to be the church of and for England, called to offer the good news of Jesus in and for every generation, giving ourselves, after the example of Christ, in sacrificial service.

I am particularly thankful, therefore, that I have been invited to serve as Bishop alongside people I have come to know and love over many years of ministry in this area; working across the whole Diocese and having served in parishes in Stockport, Trafford, and Cheshire.

I am encouraged by the affirmation and support of colleagues with whom I shall be working. And I am very aware how great a resource we have in the clergy and people of the churches in this Diocese, who day by day, in their faithful service of Christ, make a difference for good.

I am proud to be counted among them - and pray I shall be as much a blessing to them as I know they shall be to me.

As significant as today may be, for me, for the Diocese of Chester, for the Church of England, I rejoice that by this time next week our attention will be on something truly remarkable as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

I was asked recently to reflect on what Christmas means to me. And I’d like to conclude my statement with my response: I think, this year, I will be pondering the idea that Christmas is about unexpected joy.

The unexpected always brings disturbance and change. Sometimes that is uncomfortable, even distressing. The unexpected often brings fear. But the unexpectedness of Christmas, that God would choose to make himself known to us in the baby of Bethlehem, brings not fear but joy.

Again and again in the Christmas story we hear the message ‘Do not be afraid’. Mary heard the unexpected news of Jesus’ coming, and the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid’; the shepherds heard the unexpected news of Jesus birth and the angels said ‘Do not be afraid - do not be afraid, for I bring you news of great joy’. 

So, as we celebrate Christmas next week, I will be praying that the unexpected heralds great joy, that because of Jesus we face the future not with fear but with the assurance offered us through the Prince of Peace.

In this coming week I shall be reflecting on unexpected joy.