Comments: Suffragan Bishop of Bolton: Mark David Ashcroft

After reading a number of press releases like this, an unsettling pattern emerges. Is this an issue in the press releases, or does it reflect an issue in the selection process?

What is repeatedly emphasised is:
- education and academic achievement;
- posts held, especially posts in the Church, and
- being in an heterosexual marriage with children.

Noticeably missing usually are:
- any demonstration of charitable work;
- any demonstration of fighting for equality or human rights, or campaigning for minority groups like immigrants;
- evidence the candidate is a good teacher, counselor or effectively uses modern social media and
- any indication of publication of peer-reviewed or formally published theological work

In short, the bios we get for bishops read like they describe middle managers rather than faith leaders.

+Mark might be a good candidate. I don't know. But the emphasis in a number of these announcement suggests that if he is a good candidate it is more through luck (or some back-stopping by the Spirit) than good judgement.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 22 June 2016 at 11:26pm BST

Yet again, commenters on TA show that they are unable to read anything except through the prism of their own obsessions.

Posted by Ceegee at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 8:25am BST

Kate. It is worth visiting the diocesan announcement where what IS emphasised is Mark's undoubted commitment to the poor. His title parish was in urban Manchester, he has served sacrificially in Africa and he has been a long serving Archdeacon for one of the most deeply urban and deprived areas of North West England.
I can think of no better faith leader, and encourager of faith leaders in the parishes, of the Bolton Episcopal area

Posted by Paul Richardson at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 8:56am BST

I know nothing about the diocese of Manchester and why this appointment has been announced several days before the existing Bishop of Bolton retires.Is there a precedent for this, I wonder? Normally there seems to be a gap of several months or longer when there is a vacancy for a suffragan bishop.There has been a vacancy for the bishopric of Tonbridge in the diocese of Rochester since last October,for instance.In any case I wish him well although he does appear to be yet another evangelical appointee?

Posted by michael at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 9:36am BST

@Kate: The words of 1 Cor.9:19-23 may be relevant. There is evidence that +Mark is a good teacher, having served at a Divinity School in Kenya for nine years. He has been a faith leader for quite a number of years. We may need to assume that, as a Christian, +Mark is inclined to be charitable and fights for human rights. Some Bishops are single, many are married. I know marriage equality is important to you Kate. As it is to me. And, I'm sure +Mark's marriage and family are important to him.

Posted by Pam at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 9:46am BST

Thanks Paul, so maybe it is the blurb writers then. But Pam, we shouldn't need to assume charity because it should be highlighted.

As to marriage, Pam, my disquiet isn't equality so much as that being married is presented as a positive when for a priest, and especially a bishop, the reverse is true. We Anglicans allow our priests to marry and that is probably right. But we should be hoping they don't, and being married should be an impediment to being a bishop, while accepting that in some exceptional cases some will be married.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 11:23am BST

As an aside, can anyone tell me when people started referring to bishops as '+Name'…and when we might be able to stop doing this…?

Posted by Ian Paul at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 12:07pm BST

Here's one answer:'s_name

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 1:33pm BST

Personally I think that anyone can use the sign of the cross, and do so proudly.

Susannah +

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 2:14pm BST

An alternative explanation of the + before bishops' names is that in an age which was generaly illiterate people signed a document by making their mark on it. The mark was usually an X or a cross (and we generally still mark ballot papers in this way, even this very day). In order to distinguish and identify the mark a clerk would write the name of the person next to their mark, thus:
X John Smith his mark

Those who could write would similarly make their mark and append their name to it. Bishops of course were requireed to be literate, and so would always sign in this way.

As is quite usual the bishops kept up this tradition when others became literate, and as is also quite usual others then read back into it some spiritual reason and turned the X or mark into a Christian cross.

Personally, I don't object to bishops prefixing their names with a +, reminding us that they can write their own names. But I don't use it when referring to a bishop, preferring to write, as I would say, Bishop John or Bishop Jane (or whatever their name is).

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 3:45pm BST

Of course these days a cross before someone's name usually indicates he or she is dead ...

Posted by Peter S at Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 10:24pm BST

Bishops, according to Debretts, sign their signature proceeded by a cross, and by Act of Parliament can use the name of their see as their signature. Priests often sign with a cross after their name. Some Anglican (GAFCON, all) archbishops use two crosses before their name. No! Archbishops are consecrated to the episcopate, and nothing loftier in terms of ordination. I have a collection of episcopal and archiepiscopal signatures. One archbishop signed with a slanted cross with two cross bars. John Hughes of NY was called "Dagger John" because of the look of his signature cross. +, ++, and +++ have become Internet shorthand.

Posted by Richard at Friday, 24 June 2016 at 6:17am BST

Michael seems intrigued by the timescale of the process for this appointment.

The key date was the previous bishop announcing his retirement. We then had to gain the consent of Bishop's Council to seek a further appointment, set up a diverse panel to oversee it, draw up a person specification and role descriptors, and gain the consent of the archbishop and the Dioceses Commission to these. After that we trawled for names, long listed, shortlisted, set interview tasks and interviewed. Then Mark had to undergo the mandatory medical checks and get a fresh DBS clearance. Meanwhile I petitioned the Crown and the Archbishop indicated his support for Mark to the PM. All in all it has taken almost 8 months and Mark will take up duties at the start of Advent, after consecration in October.

It was a lot to do, but we just got on with it.

Oh, and in a team of three bishops I was keen to replace the retiring evangelical with a person from somewhere on the evangelical part of the spectrum.

Posted by David Walker at Friday, 24 June 2016 at 6:56am BST

"Oh, and in a team of three bishops I was keen to replace the retiring evangelical with a person from somewhere on the evangelical part of the spectrum."

David, not being funny, but why?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 24 June 2016 at 12:31pm BST

Susanna, we have three of us as the episcopal team in Manchester Diocese. Whilst both the Bishop of Middleton and myself would claim much sympathy for and some understanding of the evangelical traditions in which a good number of our parishes are rooted, we will never have the degree of sensitivity and innate understanding that someone who is themself primarily an evangelical would possess. Both the panel set up to work with me on the appointment and I myself felt that the life and flourishing of the church in our diocese would be better served by there continuing to be an evangelical bishop among us.

Posted by David Walker at Friday, 24 June 2016 at 7:17pm BST

Thank you so much for explaining the rationale, David. May God bless the whole diocese in its range and variety of ministry, service and community.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 24 June 2016 at 10:00pm BST

Many thanks to David for giving me such a full and fascinating response to my question.May God bless your endeavours in the North West and those of the future bishop of Bolton

Posted by michael at Saturday, 25 June 2016 at 8:25am BST
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