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First-ever woman Bishop of Stepney is ready to champion the rights of the East End's poor

PUBLISHED: 22:24 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 22:58 07 May 2019

Dr Woolway Grenfell meets Met Police east London Commander Sue Williams. Picture: Ken Mears.

Dr Woolway Grenfell meets Met Police east London Commander Sue Williams. Picture: Ken Mears.

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The new Bishop of Stepney is to fight for the rights of the poor and those living in deprevitaion when she takes up her post in September.

New Bishop of Stepney Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell arrives to meet east London's faith leaders. Picture: Ken Mears.New Bishop of Stepney Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell arrives to meet east London's faith leaders. Picture: Ken Mears.

Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell, whose appointment to "the best job in the world" was announced by Downing Street today, pledged to make sure the Church of England "works and eats" with the community.

The promise came in a meeting today at the town hall with the mayor of Tower Hamlets and East End community leaders from other faiths.

"It's clear to me as a Christian that we need to be on the side of the poor and listen to their voice," Dr Woolway Grenfell told the East London Advertiser.

"Working in an area like the East End which has some of those challenges alongside somewhere like Canary Wharf really matters to me."

Tower Hamlets Interfaith forum chair Alan Green hosts the new Bishop of Stepney, Dr Woolway Grenfell, for her first meeting with East End community leaders. Picture: Ken Mears.Tower Hamlets Interfaith forum chair Alan Green hosts the new Bishop of Stepney, Dr Woolway Grenfell, for her first meeting with East End community leaders. Picture: Ken Mears.

But the former Oxford don and mother-of-three, who is moving to east London from the south coast and is currently looking for good schools for her children, enters what had been until recently a traditional male preserve with her appointment as the very first woman Bishop of Stepney.

"I understand the traditional position is in the Church where there is a place for those who hold that belief," she confided. "But we work together, so I don't see it as a threat or a barrier being a woman bishop.

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"We work together because it's all about The Gospel, not being territorial or tribal. We need to respect the different views of men's and women's ministry. It's a privilege meeting community leaders and to hear them saying what we can do together and eat together."

New Bishop of Stepney meeting faith leaders, mayor of Tower Hamlets and councillors at the town hall. Picture: Ken Mears.New Bishop of Stepney meeting faith leaders, mayor of Tower Hamlets and councillors at the town hall. Picture: Ken Mears.

Joanne is very much a family person whose husband James is also in the Church, tutoring the intake of trainee preachers and ministers. The couple met at theological college and have been married 20 years.

But she takes up her post with caution about going headlong into the day-to-day issues in her new domain that encompasses the three London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Islington.

"It's unwise for someone new to go out on a limb without first listening and learning what's already happening," she said. "Then together we act and if it came to it I hope I would be brave with the community and be part of it."

Dr Woolway Grenfell is due to move into the Bishop's Manse at Mile End in September, vacated by Bishop Adrian Newman who had to retire last October through ill health—first revealed in the Advertiser last summer.

An East End welcome for the new Bishop of Stepney... a traditional hot cup of char. Picture: Ken MearsAn East End welcome for the new Bishop of Stepney... a traditional hot cup of char. Picture: Ken Mears

Her consecration takes place in July at St Paul's, when she joins the Diocese of London as the lead bishop for social responsibility and safeguarding, along with the Bishop of London, as well as her role for the Stepney Area.

The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, spoke today of the new bishop providing an "inspirational Christian leadership".

She said: "Joanne is a person of prayer and theological reflection committed to spiritual growth, with an understanding and love of the diversity we see across London."

Dr Woolway Grenfell took on the additional role of Dean of Women's Ministry when she was vicar in Sheffield before becoming Archdeacon of Portsdown on the south coast in 2013.

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