The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford with Edwin Sandys (and his wife Cecily)
Edwin Sandys (1519?-88) and his wife Cecily Wilford (d.1611) by an unknown English artist, after 1576 © Bishopthorpe Palace, York
Being a bishop, clearly, never was just a barrel of laughs. Edwin Sandys managed to experience huge reform, imprisonment and exile, constant disappointment, and appointments he didn’t want: Bishop of London in 1570 and Archbishop of York five years later. On the right side of Elizabeth I, he was nevertheless downhearted about some elements of the ‘settlement’ that compromised his Reformed preferences – such as the use of vestments being allowed. Anyway, at least he was allowed to marry and he made the most of this permission by having nine children. He had to get his fun somewhere…
I sympathise with Sandys. The Church of England is never a comfortable place. Four hundred years ago, Sandys and co were grappling with conflicts and dilemmas that seem less important to most people today. But, there is no limit to what can get them worked up. I became a bishop in 2003 and have worked in both the south and north of England. Like Sandys, I was a linguist – whereas he assisted in the translation of the so-called Bishops’ Bible, I worked in Russian, German and French at GCHQ… but still preach and lecture in German from time to time. Life was as complex then as it is now; it is just that the present issues are different.
I am clear that the Church exists for the sake of the world it is there to serve and reach. This is a challenge, especially when our culture moves on in some ethical questions and leaves the Church struggling to work out its response. Now, as then, being a bishop makes you a target for the venom of a wide range of people.
I guess I share Sandys’ struggle with being obedient to a ‘call’ when the going is tough, but also to making the most of the opportunities to serve both church and society with a long-term view – even when it gets you into trouble.
For the record, I only have three children…