Coffee House

Meet Libby Lane – the first interview with the first woman bishop

17 December 2014

4:54 PM

17 December 2014

4:54 PM

Why is Libby Lane the first woman bishop appointed by the Church of England? She was one of the first to be ordained as a vicar 20 years ago when the Church approved women priests, and today she was unveiled as the Bishop of Stockport. But she was not one of the favourites, and so Bishop Libby was as much of a surprise as her appointment, which the Church kept under wraps until late last night.

When we meet in the Crewe YMCA, she has just been touring the building surrounded by a small cloud of cameras and journalists and is preparing to say goodbye to her congregation at a party this evening. They only found out this morning that she would be leaving them to become a bishop. When we talk about the church at St Peter’s Hale, Lane seems a little emotional as she is clearly sad to be leaving them behind, but for the rest of the interview, she is as polished as any politician I’ve ever interviewed.

The first ever woman bishop, appointed after years of campaigning and fighting in the Church of England, is so keen not to cause any more fights that she tries to avoid saying anything particularly striking during the interview. She refuses to put herself on one side or another when I ask whether she sees herself as a liberal, a conservative, an evangelical, or something else. Speaking in that special Anglican way – a slightly slower-than-usual pace of words that linger a little longer over vowels, especially ‘God’, which becomes ‘Go-od’, and thoughtful-sounding pauses – she says:

‘I would describe myself as a Christian and as a passionate Anglican and that’s how I would describe myself. I have been formed and shaped by a whole breadth of the Church of England’s tradition and experience and been really enriched by that and I want to hold onto that breadth and the richness that I have got in Christ and all the traditions of the Church.’


I’m not sure what that means, other than that she’s very keen to get on with everyone in the diocese, so I try to find out whether she has a liberal or an evangelical approach to the Bible. Does she believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture or applying context to tricky issues?

‘I read the Bible every day, I shape my preaching around Scripture, I love the Bible and it is what shapes my life. I hear God’s voice in it speaking to me and shaping my life and through it I think God’s intentions for the world, the Bible really matters to me. But so do the Church’s liturgy and sacraments, so does the Church’s teaching through history, rich history of prayer and spirituality, I am hard to label and I’m happy with that.’

If Lane applies a label to her beliefs in private, she clearly doesn’t think it’s wise to tell the world about it at the start of her ministry as a bishop. The website of the church she is now leaving, St Peter’s Hale, explains the Christian faith in a rather gentle way, saying that Christ’s ‘life, death and resurrection holds the key to knowing and loving God and to making sense of life, before and after death’. Perhaps her sermons are clearer.

Bishops have always clashed with governments, and recently the Church of England has had a number of high-profile debates with ministers about certain social policies, particularly welfare reform. Lane is a suffragan bishop and will not sit in the House of Lords, with the first Anglican woman to sit in the Upper Chamber coming next year. But she sees it as her duty to ‘challenge’ politicians on policies that she sees hurting those she serves. ‘Where my voice can articulate the voice of the church in its whole breadth, then I will, she says. ‘I think speaking of the experience of the people that we are and the people that we serve is incumbent on all ministers, and that includes challenge as well as encouragement.’

She has, along with other women who have felt called to full-time Christian ministry from a young age (her first inkling that she wanted to work in the Church came when she was 15 and she told her own vicar when she was 20 that she was thinking of following in his footsteps), been campaigning for many years for this day to come, and must have got into a few scraps with those who oppose it on theological grounds. She tries to be polite about these people, while saying ‘there have been people inevitably, colleagues, and people within the communities that I have served for whom this has been disturbing, unsettling and distressing’.

She claims that her own conviction that she was called to work in the Church is enough to help her deal with CofE colleagues and parishioners who wish she didn’t have the job she now does. But come on, she must have had a few fights with people over the past 20 years since the Church started ordaining women?

‘I’m very happy to engage with robust… engagements… but, um, I would hate to get to a place where I thought I was always right or that I knew everything. So the fact that people disagree with me is actually a positive thing and it continues to help me to learn to grow.’

The furthest Lane comes to saying that the opponents of women Bishops need to do anything now that she’s in post is that ‘there are people who do carry hurt and scars and those must be honoured and recognised’. She’s keen to work with any churches under her authority as Bishop of Stockport who disagree with women in authority in the Church, and will ‘ensure that they have the support and the oversight that they are entitled to, so that they can flourish and I will continue to serve them as their bishop, praying and resourcing them as much as I am able’. That word ‘flourish’, by the way, is an official part of the Church’s attempt to accommodate those who disagree with its new official position on bishops and gender. But as I explained in the Spectator recently, some conservative evangelicals feel they will eventually be forced to leave the Church, rather than flourish.

But Lane likes the fact that the modern Church of England is a very broad one indeed. She says ‘I think that part of its strength is that we strive to hold people together in Christ and that we don’t all agree with each other. I think we are stronger because dissenting voices are heard’. She, though, clearly doesn’t want to add to the noisy debate in the Church at the moment, and is quite happy instead to blend back into the noisy YMCA to talk to more of the people who work there. Which makes her the perfect first woman bishop in many ways: the only thing that appears to be controversial about her is her appointment, which was the subject of so much fighting in that broad church.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Bonkim

    Is Christianity to be redefined every so often to suit the changing generations? Is God and religion moulded continuously by humans in their image and does that violate the fundamental definition of a God and religion.

    • Swanky

      Yes. Yes. And no.

      • Bonkim

        Then it is a man-made religion with a God moulded in man’s image..

        • Swanky

          Ain’t it always the way….

  • Swanky

    So another squishy socialist rises in the Church….

  • Polly Radial

    Don’t know why, but I have a suspicion that this person is not a UKIP member.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Why is Libby Lane the first woman bishop appointed by the Church of England?


    …but for the rest of the interview, she is as polished as any politician I’ve ever interviewed.

    I see you’ve answered your own question.

  • St Ignatius

    The CofS confirms it will have a “mixed economy” on homosexual clergy; the CofE appoints a women bishop. Sounds like a great day to start joining the Catholic Church.

  • callingallcomets

    Nothing like a post about a woman bishop to generate a wave of misogynistic bile and venom here at the Speccie proving once again that the so-called Religion of Peace and Love is home to a vast regiment of bitter and twisted haters who yearn for the good old days when heretics could be burned at the stake and women waterboarded for withcraft.

    • GraveDave

      Libby looks as if she would have been a prime candidate for witchcraft herself. Other than that – good luck to her.

      • Airey Belvoir

        I hope that she has not suffered the indignity of being searched for superfluous nipples…

        • GraveDave


    • CharlietheChump

      I love Christmas

  • Hippograd

    If the atheists and secularists at the Guardian approve, how can it be bad for Christianity?

  • Rhys

    “Perhaps her sermons are clearer.”

    If Libby Lane can clarify the incomprehensible, maybe she should be appointed Magician of Stockport.

  • jmjm208

    I don’t give a hoot if she is a bishop or not; all I care about is if she has been truly born again of the Holy Spirit, or is she just another social worker with a religious emphasis.

  • WinstonCDN


  • Gwangi

    I’m sure she’ll be a banging bishop!

    • Airey Belvoir

      But on the plus side, more female clerics = fewer sexually abused choirboys.

  • carl jacobs

    She’s going to be circumspect because the leadership is conscious of the fragile nature of the church at the moment. That last thing it needs is confirmation of all conservative expectations about the kind of theology that will attend women bishops. The true measure of women bishops will be found in the aggregate of the first five or six. By which point the correlation between women bishops and liberal theology will be well established. The hope is that people will be used to it by that point. Don’t spook the horses, as it were.

    It won’t matter. Liberalism is established, and so the conservative exodus must begin. As it proceeds, the Liberals will find it easier to establish their doctrines – thus accelerating the outflow of conservatives. Next up is the legitimization of homosexual relationships. I give it three years. At that point the HTB people who watched Reform walk out the door three years earlier will quickly follow the same path.

    Stick a fork in it. The CoE is done.

  • AJAX

    More pointless PC tokenism by the CofE.

  • Stephen Milroy

    A sad day. I believe the Church of England is a very good institution but stuff like this makes me want to bang my head into a wall. The metropolitan elite are atheists! They will never like you CofE! To some extent I believe this is due to pressure from parliament for not giving the ‘right’ answer first time round, but the Church should have stuck two fingers up at these Godless luvvies!

    • callingallcomets

      In other words this woman should know her place…

  • David Prentice

    A female bishop in the ranks of their main opposition, yes, the Imams of the UK’s 2000+ mosques will surely approve. They will publicly applaud and privately characterize the established Church as weak, compliant, beloved of the usual suspects – gays, feminists and the BBC – but lacking in authority and respect. Her appointment, in itself a small thing, but overall the advancement of “progressive” causes – gay marriage, abortion on demand, endless inquiries into torture – surely confirming in their minds the impression of moral chaos and systemic breakdown in the UK’s traditional value structures. Expect high-profile Imams to welcome Libby Lane’s appointment and to support her candidature for AB of C, should Welby step down.

  • John Andrews

    The Church of England might do better if it let its gay-hating African clergymen break away.

  • Richard Baranov

    This strikes me as absurd. No one other than a small coterie of like minded Anglicans recognize female priests, let alone female bishops. The Anglican church, sadly, seems to be determined to make itself irrelevant and isolate itself from the general body of Christians. This is English cultural suicide in full swing! Would be nice if they did what they were originally for, teaching Christianity!

    • Swanky

      I’ll disagree. You may be right about what Anglicans like best, but the idea that all authority must spring from humans with bollocks by their bottoms is a nasty one and has been disastrous for women. This makes a refreshing change in the world of religion, even if that’s a world that I’m glad myself not to live in.

  • In2minds

    Our cups runneth over?

    • Richard Baranov

      More like dribble in a limp wristed liberal sort of way.

    • Swanky

      Only if she’s a size C in a B cup.

  • Jankers

    How ironic, if ever a bishop could do with a full beard.

    • Mark McIntyre

      Holy ‘Moley’ !

  • Blindsideflanker

    The CofE used to be called the Tory party at prayer, now I suppose its the Cultural Marxists at prayer. But I suppose as the Cameroons worship the same politics we’re back to square one.

    • stewart

      “The CofE used to be called the Tory party at prayer, now I suppose its the Cultural Marxists at prayer”
      Almost but ‘Cultural Marxists against prayer’ would be more like it

      If even I ,as a reasoned atheist, can see that by begging the approval of the ‘liberal inquisition’ the CoE is actually condemning itself to extinction why cant they?

      Still it’s their business I guess

  • John Carins

    The mole in the CofE is revealed.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Has God afflicted her with a plague of boils?

    • callingallcomets

      Whatt an unpleasant and cheap observation

      • Blindsideflanker

        I am not sure you can have an unpleasant or cheap observation. An incorrect observation may be, but cheap ? I don’t think so.

        An unpleasant personal comment? probably, but in my campaign against the politicisation of language where we dare not say what we see or think, then I don’t really care if you are offended, for I have a feeling what you are offended about was that it crossed your mind.

        • carl jacobs

          No, ‘cheap’ is actually a polite description. The comment was a shallow and vile observation that served no purpose but to degrade. ‘Shallow’ because externals do not indicate character. ‘Vile’ because you would adminiser such a degrading attack in some purported service of truth. Whether true or false, why would such a truth need telling? What positive purpose could it ever serve – other than to elevate yourself at someone else’s expense.

          I oppose WO and all its works and all its ways. That wouldn’t justify cruel and vicious behavior on my part. The woman is still entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Whatever justification you might propose, it will fail.

  • The Commentator

    Hard to imagine a woman more remote from the teachings of Christ or a church more detached from the message of Christianity. If she had followed the example of Mother Theresa and dedicated her life to serving the poor I would have had every admiration for her, but instead she pursues personal ambition, rank and privilege. She is alas only deserving of our contempt.

    • Swanky

      Do you feel that way about the other bishops? Why aren’t they living in tents in India, eh?

  • EricHobsbawmtwit

    I feel kind-of sad for her to have had the ambition to raise herself up like that, but choosing to do it in the Church of England, which is just another left-wing pressure group these days,

    • Swanky

      I think Justin Welby is a better man than that, though I sympathize with your characterization.

  • JonBW

    We look to Bishops to exercise spiritual authority; very rarely now do we find it and this won’t help.

    • Swanky

      Why won’t it help? What harm will it do?

      • JonBW

        Because the Church of England needs to be clearer and more authoritative in its theological message; the kind of bishops it is appointing are too liberal and accommodating of every view to achieve that.
        ‘Service’ is important, but so is leadership and I don’t see it here.

        • Swanky

          Fair enough.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I’m against women bishops. But then I’m against all bishops, and priests …

    • stewart


  • justejudexultionis

    The apostasy of the Church of England is near complete.

  • DonCamilletto

    ‘[She] likes the fact that the modern Church of England is a very broad one indeed.’
    Regrettably, not any more it ain’t.
    This change has destroyed the Anglo Catholic wing and is in the process of doing the same with the Evangelical one, neither of whom in good conscience accept it. Only the ‘liberal’ will be left.
    In trendy lefty [Orwellian/Cheshire Cat] ‘Churchspeak’ inclusivity now means the exact opposite.

  • Last Man Standing

    Anglicanism is no longer part of the Apostolic continuity and is a sect. A modernist, liberal sect, that thinks reading the Quran in Christian services, supporting the wearing of the Burqa by primary school teachers, and demolishing 2000 years of British Christian tradition and culture is necessary to be cool and hip. It may be cool and hip but it is not Christian.

    • justejudexultionis

      It is in fact a limb of Antichrist.

      • styants64

        An Antichrist called cultural Marxism.

        • Pacificweather

          Christ taught Marx all he new.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            No it was Moses. Moses Hess.

          • kittydeer

            I don’t think so ,or else Marx was fast asleep during the parable of the talents

            • Pacificweather

              From each according to his abilities, unto each according to his needs.

    • Samson

      Have they demolished your knowledge of the fact that Britain hasn’t even been a country for 2000 years, let alone a Christian one for that amount of time?

      • DonCamilletto

        A country in the sense of a ‘nation state’ no, but Christianity has been in these isles from the time of the Roman occupation. It conquered Rome and conquered the Angles and Saxons, it survived the ‘Enlightenment’ all in the space of 2000 years, give or take.
        Now it faces a war on two fronts, modern secularism and its ancient foe, resurgent islam, both of whom seek to exterminate it.
        As the Advent hymn says ‘Now is the time to awake out of sleep.’

        • Samson

          The Romans occupied this land before Jesus was born. Christianity didn’t take hold here for centuries after they first came, and Christian culture was somewhat different then than it ever was or will be under the CofE. There was a good stretch where believing in Jesus in the CofE way would have bought you a place on the stake, with kindling aplenty around your feet. I’m not sure about your policy regarding burning people alive, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say we’re better off without that particular brand. You could make a case for about five hundred years of consistent Christianity in the country, and the fact that the church has been in decline for sometime. Secularism isn’t trying to destroy the church, though – the church blanded itself into obscurity by being a once-a-week sing-a-dreary-hymn thing. No one gives a s**t about it enough to want to destroy it.

          • DonCamilletto

            No, the invasion started in 43AD under Claudius. Caesar ‘veni-ed’, vini-ed’ but never ‘vinci-ed’!
            As for Christianity, did THOSE Feet in ancient time, walk. Did Joseph of Arimathea plant the Holy Thorn? Tertullian knew of Christians by 200AD. That was the British Church. Then came Rome to convert the Angles and Saxons.
            In broad outline, Christianity didn’t change its core values very much at all until the 1960’s, even with Henry VIII’s regime change. That’s what this is all about. Two thousand years of history ‘up the swannee’ to bring in this innovation, not forgetting that Scripture emphatically forbids it.
            I didn’t know why you think I have a policy of burning people. I’m sorry to disappoint but I’ve never even slightly scorched someone. Do you think, though, that a mixture of incense and pipe tobacco might-just-smoke somebody? If you do, then I have to cry ‘mea culpa’

            • Paddy Kilshamus

              The 1960’s is a major turning point in the cultural war. So many traditional views overturned or undermined or simply destroyed depending on ones viewpoint. Yet it is still cloaked in the rose-tinted haze of freedom and youthful rebellion, the music and the lifestyle etc. I am only just learning that the man who came up with the phrase ‘Make love not War’ was not some chilled out hippie but a Marxist Revolutionary Jew with a hatred for the West and a desire to bring it to a state of total collapse (Marcuse). I don’t think we have grasped the full extent of that period and the effects that are reverberating now throughout our institutions. These are the terrorists we should have interned.

  • Marshal Phillips

    A woman, Queen Elizabeth, is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

    • justejudexultionis

      Jesus Christ is the head of the church, him and no other. There is no warrant for female leadership or preaching in regular ministry in the church of Jesus Christ.

      • Marshal Phillips

        It’s the Church of England. duh

      • EricHobsbawmtwit

        So he’s a bit like Kim Jong-il then, remaining Supreme Leader even though he’s been dead for ages.

        • Swanky

          That’s very very naughty, EHtwit!

      • Pacificweather

        God may have something to say about that. Jesus is just the pretender to the throne.

      • Swanky

        Why? Is there something wrong with women? Is their humanity beneath men’s? If not, there is no possible basis for objection.

        • Zanderz

          The argument is theological.

          There are two genders – male and female. Both created and loved by God. In his wisdom he has given different characteristics (biological, mental, physical etc.) and roles to male and female. Different but complementary.

          It is our human pride and human ego that ascribe different values to these roles and characteristics.

          It so happens that the biblical outline for church structure has a man in the position of head of the church as God in his wisdom thinks that the male characteristics are a better fit for this role.

          The argument is that we should not ignore God’s commands on church structure as he has clearly set them out in his wisdom.

          It is human pride and ego that drives people to take positions and roles that are not intended for them. And if that is up for negotiation then so is everything else the bible says.

          It’s a fact that people in favour of women in church leadership have more liberal views on other theological and moral issues.

          • Swanky

            Nonsense. The ‘different characteristics’ fraud is entirely a way in which men claim all the attributes of rule for themselves. It’s wrong and our society has spent the last five hundred years at least revealing the fraud for what it is.

            As for your last paragraph: but of course. The retrogrades still degrade women by thinking them incapable of leadership (or any other kind that means anything).

            • Zanderz

              No. Women may lead in secular roles. Scripture talks about leadership in the church and therefore this is an obedience to God issue. It has nothing to do with secular ‘equality’ issues, although you wrongly (as do most other people) align the two.

              • Swanky

                Oh come on! Leadership is leadership. In the past, since politics and religion were almost indistinguishable, except for the fact that popes could excommunicate English sovereigns and the nation could carry on just the same, the prohibition against women is merely sexist denigration. It is making femalehood into a lower caste. –And without justification that is or can be acceptable to a free and rational people.

                • Zanderz

                  I agree with you, the world does not value women in the same way as men. I understand your anger over this and would say that the worldly attitudes about the sexes are unbiblical and not as God intended.

                  However, this is not a ‘world’ issue but a theological one about roles in the church. If one views it through secular eyes it’s simply discrimination as in the case above. This is probably your view point, but this isn’t the case from a bible believers perspective.

                  The Bible is clear about the equal value of the sexes. This may not be demonstrated perfectly anywhere – not even in churches – but that isn’t a reason for discounting god’s wisdom.

                • Swanky

                  Women are certainly ‘valued the same way as men’ in my family and my polity.

                  However eloquently you state your case, it still remains that you think god gives the pulpit to men because men are the ones god-chosen for it. And I don’t believe that.

  • Mark McIntyre

    One hopes she turns out to be a bit of a ‘drip’ ! – if only for her sake !! – in order for her to fit in with the ‘wet’ natured people of this dismal little town !!!
    Signed – Sorry Sodden Stopfordian !

  • Fencesitter

    Does anyone suspect she was chosen for her seeming ability to be all things to all men? And women, obviously.

    Meanwhile, surely there’s now scope for the return of Geraldine Grainger as the Bishop of Dibley?

  • Mr_Ominous

    The Church of England is a good as dead religion. This appointment has little relevance to most people in today’s England but I’m sure the metro elite are positively giddy about it.

    • BFS

      Agreed Mr. Ominous. It makes me think of a quote of G.K. Chesterton.

      ” Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.” – “What’s Wrong With The World, 1910”

      • stewart

        My favorite quote attributed to Chesterton is
        “When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing: they believe in anything”
        Apparently he may not have said that ( I certainly first got it from Foucault’s Pendulum ) but that doesn’t stop it from being true

        • Pacificweather

          The question is, was he being ironic?

    • Bonkim

      Good publicity – and established church is a political organisation – nothing to do with Christianity, God or the Bible.

  • NBeale

    She sounds very good news. Congratulations to her.

    • callingallcomets

      Watch it…you’ll be accused of being a jihadist marxist next