New Bishop of Doncaster Sophie Jelley on standing for those on the margins of society

As she prepares to be consecrated as the first female Bishop of Doncaster at York Minster on Monday, Rev Canon Sophie Jelley has a message for those who fall on the margins of society, she is rooting for you, and the church has “the hope that can transform everything”.

Rev Canon Sophie Jelley. Picture: The Diocese of Sheffield
Rev Canon Sophie Jelley. Picture: The Diocese of Sheffield

With her flock extending across South Yorkshire and the East Riding, that will be a challenge, but one she is very much here for.

Her consecration was originally planned for March but postponed for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Rev Canon Jelley is already deep into her role at the Diocese of Sheffield.

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“I wish I had shares in Zoom”, she said. “I am thankful for the wonders of technology. There is a real inclusivity to it.

“There are things you can’t pick up on screen - nuances, body language, but I couldn't do my work without it. “

That work includes tackling the challenge that the Diocese describes as the “four beasts”, attendance figures, budgets, church structures and demographics - as churchgoers in the diocese tend to be older. While there are female bishops already in place elsewhere in the region, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley in Ripon, and Bishop Alison White in Hull, for example, Rev Canon Jelley is the first for Doncaster, and she said that while she feels “committed to helping women and girls achieve their potential - everyone has a part to play whatever their background or gender”.

But she is committed to working to increase diversity in the church, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matters movement.

“One of the most exciting things about my role is seeing people reach their potential,” she said. “I’m totally committed to developing a really diverse church that represents the people we serve better. It’s about developing a culture where everybody feels they belong.

“Targets are important - but what’s more so is removing obstacles, some of that is simply through education, but we recognise we are just beginning on that journey.”

Rev Canon Jelley, who grew up in Brighton, was called to the church in her teens when she spent summers volunteering with disability organisations. Her brother, Simeon, has learning difficulties and lives independently, and she has seen first hand what difficulties that can present at a time when social care is under unprecedented pressures.

Societal change and its impacts is an area that worries her greatly.

“I am deeply concerned about those who feel they live on the margins,” she said. “Social services have been incredibly hard hit.

“Young people are facing a future where finding employment will be incredibly difficult. These are huge societal challenges and I want to be outward focussed, and tell people that we, in the church, have the hope that can transform everything. “

Rev Canon Jelley comes to Doncaster from Durham Diocese and Cathedral, where she was appointed Diocesan Director of Mission, Discipleship and Ministry and Residentiary Canon Missioner in 2015.

But it is not her first posting in Yorkshire. She studied theology and religious studies at the University of Leeds and after being ordained as a deacon in 1997, she was ordained in the diocese of Bradford in 1997 serving her title post at St Peter’s Church in Shipley. She went on to serve in Uganda, Guildford and Chichester, before moving to Durham.

Rev Canon Jelley said she felt “called” to stay in the north, and bring “hope to communities that have not always felt good about themselves”.

“I want people to know they are loved and valued by God,” she added.