New Bishop of Ripon gets a rousing Maori welcome

"Look after her or we'll take her back," warned the New Zealand clergy. Picture by John Carter.

By Betsy Everett

Maori songs and chants and the sound of a traditional church choir greeted Dr Helen-Ann Hartley as she was installed as Bishop of Ripon in a packed cathedral on Sunday.

Priests from the Anglican Church in New Zealand who had made the 11,000-mile journey to be at her side, led her through the west door with family and friends, going head-to-head, and nose-to-nose, with their British counterparts in traditional Maori style.

Dr Hartley, 44, whose episcopal area covers the Yorkshire Dales, became Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand in 2014, a diocese similar to Ripon area with farming and tourism being key to the economy.
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Traditional Maori greeting for the new Bishop.Picture by John Carter.

Before going to New Zealand in 2010 she worked as one of a team ministering to 12 rural parishes in Oxfordshire before being appointed as director of biblical studies at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, near Oxford.

The service of installation and welcome was conducted by John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines and Dean of Ripon, John Dobson.

The procession was headed by Maori priests, Canon Christopher Douglas-Huriwai and the Revd Ngira Simmonds, who also brought a word of warning. “Please look after Helen-Ann. If not, we will come and bring her back,” they said, to muted laughter from a congregation aware, perhaps, that female priests in the Church of England have not had an easy ride on the road to acceptance as bishops.

Dr Hartley was the first female priest ordained in the Church of England to cross that line when. She moved to New Zealand in 2010 with her husband Myles who is a musician and church organist.

In her first sermon as Bishop of Ripon she spoke of her “deep gratitude” to all, but especially to those who had travelled from across the world to support her.

“It is a measure of the depth of connection and bonds of affection across the Anglican communion that you are here today, and I am moved beyond words,” she said.

Building on a “rich heritage of Christian mission and witness” in the north of England, the story of the recently-formed Leeds diocese, where she is one of five area bishops (Bradford, Huddersfield, Richmond, Ripon and Wakefield), was one that had been forged through “immense challenge,” she said.

“In our national life debates over Brexit, regional devolution, and an alarming drive to polarisation continue to cause division and fear. But our parishes and people are uniquely placed to participate in conversations not just about who we are, but whose we are,” she said.

Children from St Aidan’s High School, Harrogate, presented the bishop with gifts symbolising aspects of her future ministry; a young olive tree for education, a photo of the Yorkshire countryside accompanied by a warning about climate change and economic challenges, a ceramic poppy for the armed forces – and a Yorkshire tea towel as a reminder to lay people to “use whatever you have to serve others.”

Born in Edinburgh in 1973 Bishop Hartley was raised in the North of England. She was ordained in Oxford and held curacies in Oxfordshire before being appointed director of biblical studies at Ripon Theological College, Cuddesdon. She is the fourth generation of her family to be ordained and succeeds James Bell who retired as Bishop of Ripon last year.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu welcomes the new Bishop of Ripon. Picture by John Carter.
Area bishops with Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines. Left to right: Paul Slater (Richmond), Jonathan Gibbs (Huddersfield), Helen-Ann Hartley (Ripon), Nick Baines, Toby Howarth (Bradford), Tony Robinson (Wakefield).