Bishop Stephen returns home for a special ordination service

Posted on July 5, 2014


Bishop Stephen will become Rector of St Michael's Cornhill on 7th July

Bishop Stephen will become Rector of St Michael’s Cornhill on 7th July

This month we are delighted to welcome Bishop Stephen Platten and his wife Rosslie to Christ Church. Having served as the Bishop of Wakefield for ten years, Bishop Stephen has just moved to London after a reorganisation saw the creation of a new diocesan structure in the Province of York. On Monday 7th July, Bishop Stephen will be inducted as Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of London and Rector of St Michael’s Cornhill. One of his first official duties will be to ordain our curate, The Reverend Hazel Miall, as priest on Friday 11th July. Hazel will become the first woman to be ordained in our church. Bishop Stephen will preside over the ordination service, because our Area Bishop, Bishop Peter, cannot in conscience ordain women.  

We caught up with Bishop Stephen while he hopped between meetings in preparation for his new role as Honorary Assistant Bishop, Rector of St Michael’s Cornhill and Chairman of Hymns Ancient & Modern, (publisher of The Church Times).

We hear that you have “local roots” – tell us more!
Yes, that’s right; my passport gives “Southgate” as my place of birth. I was born in a house in Elmscott Gardens, off Bush Hill in 1947. I spent the first 20 years of my life here and have fond memories of singing in the choir at St John’s Clay Hill, which was the church I attended. I expect I visited Christ Church at some point to sing there too. Through my life I have come into contact with a number of people who have links to Christ Church Southgate. While a tutor at Lincoln Theological College I taught the son of the late John Yates, who began as a curate at Christ Church and went on to become Bishop of Whitby, then Bishop of Gloucester before becoming Bishop at Lambeth. I have a link to another former curate at Christ Church, the Reverend Matthew Baynes, now rector of St Giles, Bredon; his father was the Headmaster of the Stationers’ Company’s School in Hornsey which I attended, a few years ahead of another person with very close links to Southgate; Hazel’s husband Philip!

Bishop Stephen and his wife Rosslie

Bishop Stephen and his wife Rosslie

My wife Rosslie and I have two sons, Gregory and Aidan, both of whom are priests. Aiden is vicar of St Mark’s Hamilton Terrace in St John’s Wood and Gregory is Vicar of All Saints Friern Barnet, just a mile or so from Christ Church. This has meant that I have been able to do something which not many Bishops get the chance to do – to ordain one of my sons. I used the Form and Order of The Book of Common Prayer – a beautiful and poignant setting of the text, to ordain my youngest, Aiden.

What is your role in the Ordination service
The Bishop is there to ask the candidate a series of questions which the ordinand must answer and in so doing publicly profess their faith and commitment to the priesthood. Then the Bishop invokes the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. It is a very serious moment and, in many cases, comes at the end of a long pilgrimage. Like Hazel, it took nearly 10 years from the time I first began thinking about ordination at the age of 17 until I was ordained a priest at the age of 28, so I can imagine how she might feel at this important time.

During the Ordination service, I will ask Hazel questions about how she will order her life and ask her to make a declaration about the nature of priesthood, as messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord. I will also ask the congregation if it they will continually pray for her and support her in her ministry. The climax will be the Laying on of Hands. This is an important moment when all the ordained priests in the church will lay their hands on Hazel’s head and say the words “Send down the Holy Spirit on your servant Hazel for the office and work of a priest in your Church” in exactly the same way that the Apostles laid their hands on new believers in the earliest days of our church.

Bishop Stephen used his seat in the House of Lords to contribute to debates on a range of issues, including the Military Covenant and the humanitarian crisis in Syria

Bishop Stephen used his seat in the House of Lords to contribute to debates on a range of issues, including the Military Covenant and the humanitarian crisis in Syria

What advice would you give Hazel as she begins life as a priest?
Ordination is a day no priest will ever forget; I have never forgotten my own ordination as a deacon and as a priest. Both were key moments in my life, which I remember as vividly as the day of my marriage to Rosslie; it is a remarkable and powerful moment – so first, I would say to Hazel – enjoy it!

As moving as the service of ordination is, the Grace of Holy Orders is not just about what happens at one point in time – it is the start of a journey. There is a wonderful prayer that forms part of the BCP order of service for Confirmation, which, I think, sums this up perfectly;

Defend, O Lord, your servant Hazel with your heavenly grace, that she may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until she comes to your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

I have come, over the years, to see how God works through so many people – and that our formation as priests is driven, to a great extent, by those to whom we minister and engage with through our pastoral work. This has been an important lesson. Hazel’s long connection to Christ Church and to the community of Southgate more widely, with many years of service to others, means she comes to the priesthood with a wealth of experience and hundreds of friends and supporters, many of whom I look forward to meeting on 11th July. The Grace of Holy Orders will, I am sure, give her the nourishment and confidence to continue to carry out God’s purpose for her.

The Right Reverend Stephen Platten was speaking to Phillip Dawson, Churchwarden of Christ Church Southgate