Liberal Anglicans will mourn the death of Colin SleeThe dean of Southwark would have been a fierce critic of conservative evangelical resistance to the Anglican covenant
Stephen Bates guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 November 2010 12.05 GMT Article history
Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark and one of the doughtiest and most outspoken liberals in the Church of England, died overnight, within a few weeks of suffering the galloping onset of cancer. When I last saw him, a couple of weeks ago in hospital, he told me all passion was spent and he felt he no longer had any enemies within the church, but I guess had he still been as hale as he was a few months ago and able to attend this week’s general synod in London, of which he remained a member, he would have snorted in derision and despair at yesterday’s goings on in the Anglican communion. In brief, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, pleaded with the synod on Tuesday to vote in favour of the Anglican covenant, the compromise plan painfully drawn up over seven years largely to appease conservative evangelicals within the worldwide church who have been outraged over the existence of gay clergy. The covenant would comprise a set of agreed principles for Anglicanism and include mechanisms for censuring out-of-line provinces within the communion – for which read the American Episcopal Church which had the temerity to elect a gay bishop in 2003 – and exclude them from the inner counsels of the denomination. Liberals within the church have been decidedly sniffy about the covenant, believing it would undermine the traditional autonomy of national churches in making their own decisions and open the way for conservatives – such as the homophobic archbishops of central Africa – to veto innovations in other provinces they dislike. But the covenant is also regarded by many, including the archbishop, and many more moderate evangelicals, as the only way of safeguarding the future international unity of the church. It will need to be adopted by each of its 38 provinces worldwide. It is, as one senior church official said to me, the only game in town: there is no plan B. The Church of England synod’s assent was therefore vital and Rowan’s plea was particularly heartfelt and even-handed in blaming both conservatives and liberals for the continuing crisis. He called for mutual understanding and tolerance and received an ovation. At the end of Wednesday’s debate, the synod loyally voted overwhelmingly to pursue the covenant idea further. And within minutes, a number of African archbishops and other conservatives, who had met privately earlier in the month, issued a statement saying they no longer supported the covenant because it was not strict enough for them. They, of course, had waited to deliver the snub until after the vote was over. It is par for the course, fostered and encouraged by the sort of conservative evangelicals within the Church of England who dance attendance on them – it is no surprise that their meeting was in Oxford where leaders of the insurgency are based. The message is – as it has been so often in the last few years: archbishops to Rowan: drop dead. Perhaps now, finally, the covenant wheeze is dead, killed off by the very prelates it was supposed to appease. And perhaps now the archbishop of Canterbury will return to his former instincts and appreciate that the true splitters are not the wicked liberals who warned against the covenant, but those conservatives determined get their own way and wrest Anglicanism in their reactionary direction so that it becomes something it was never meant to be. Colin Slee would have understood that and spoken fiercely against them as he so often did. Liberals in the church must today be asking who will be courageous enough to take his place.
+ May the soul of your servant, Colin Slee, Rest in Peace, O Lord, and rise one day with Christ in glory. Amen!
Liberal Anglicans around the world will mourn the death of this doughty soldier of Christ, who could, at one time, have become our Bishop in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, since he returned to Southwark as Dean, his tireless efforts to maintain the traditional ethos of ‘Inclusivity’ in the world-wide Anglican Communion have been consistently and tirelessly offered to God and the Church.
No doubt the Church of England members who want women bishops and gays to be recognised as legitimate members of the body of Christ, the Church, will mourn the loss of Colin, and will wonder who, in the Church of England, could possibly take his place;
May he now Rest in God’s Peace! – Fr. Ron Smith