Nick Baines: ‘You cannot make women bishops just to have women bishops’

Nick Baines, head of a super-diocese, is optimistic about reconciling voices in the Church, but warns against complacency

It may be more than a decade since the Church of England agreed to the idea, but Nick Baines is wary of raising expectations over the imminent arrival in the pulpit of a female bishop. “It’s a work in progress. It’s not a foregone conclusion,” he warns.

In recent days the soon-to-be-inaugurated head of the first super-diocese in Yorkshire has been huddled  with his fellow episcopal power brokers, combing  over the fine detail of what is hoped to be the long-awaited deal to pave the way for female equality in the highest ranks of the clergy.

After the heartbreak of 2012, when a motion breaking the deadlock was so narrowly and bitterly defeated by the votes of laity, there has been much work going on behind the scenes to ensure there  will be no repeat of the tears and recriminations.

If – and Bishop Baines stresses “if” – the Synod finally finds an accommodation that will provide enough reassurances to swing enough naysayers in support, the sky could be the limit for the right female candidate.

“Once women can be  bishops and a diocese is  saying we ought to be open to women bishops then, by definition, those women could become Archbishop  of Canterbury, York, Durham or anywhere else,” he said.

Nick Baines says the rapid elevation of Justin Welby has blown ideas of time-serving ‘out of the water’ Nick Baines says the rapid elevation of Justin Welby has blown ideas of time-serving ‘out of the water’

Whereas once the primus inter pares would have been expected to serve a few decades in the Synod or the House of Bishops, the rapid elevation of Justin Welby has blown notions of time-serving “out of the water”, he adds.

It is a beguiling vision from the popular blogger and tweeter – a regular speaker on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 – who has himself been tipped one day to occupy the highest post in the Church.

But at present, he must contend with the challenges posed by being the Bishop of West Yorkshire and the Dales – the head of the Church’s first new diocese since 1927, created by amalgamating the old diocese of Bradford (his former post), Wakefield, Leeds and Ripon. He is now responsible for 2.3 million souls.

The crucial Synod vote in York in July will consider the Plan B put together by Justin Welby based on classic principles of mediation and reconciliation used in resolving intractable conflicts.

There have been plenty of confidence-building meetings around the fringes of the Synod which, he says, have helped to “take the heat out… take away the totemic stuff to which people react”.

Now, he says: “No one should be fearful but everyone should be realistic. If the Church can’t do reconciliation we have real problems. That is at the core of what we are supposed to be about.”

But he is in little doubt that those first female church leaders will face potent challenges – not least from the media. And as a result the idea of positive discrimination or all-female shortlists is anathema.

“It’s a hard enough job for anyone – you cannot make a woman bishop simply to have a woman bishop. That way lies a real problem. But we have some superb women who to my mind ought to be in the episcopal pool, and will be, in due course,” he says.

A linguist who studied  Russian before joining GCHQ after university, Bishop Baines understands that differences in language and culture can  be both an obstacle and a key to understanding ourselves and others.

It was a lesson that was well learnt in his former diocese of Bradford, where he was also once a student and where earlier this month members of the far right group Britain First went into mosques brandishing Bibles.

It was a potentially dangerous flashpoint situation in a city which still bears  the scars of two waves of  serious rioting. Bishop Baines is full  of praise for the “maturity”  of the community response. He is proud of the Church’s work promoting integration there, where people are increasingly fed up with “being kicked”.

“In places like Bradford, we have church schools that are 95 per cent Muslim. Part of the reason we stick with that is because you are giving children the experience of wider culture they otherwise wouldn’t have,” he adds.

However, he concedes that the national debate on immigration is far from grown-up. “We should be proud that people want to come to Europe because they think there is security and safety. But to get a proper debate about immigration and who we need or who we allow to migrate, it has to be more intelligent and realistic about the history we have had and the global context in which we live,” he said.

“It is all very well we in Britain, Germany or France saying we’ll have the really classy immigrants. We’ll have the doctors and the nurses and people like that and  then we pump aid into countries where we have just nicked their intelligentsia. What sort of unholistic madness is that?”

Meanwhile, Bishop Baines says there is little chance of the Church’s recent work on food banks and welfare security ending any time soon.

“If you look at both political parties that are likely to be in power after the next election, both are still talking about  cutting further. That means that if the state rolls back any further it is going to leave huge gaps.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas