Dr. Richard Turnbull’s departure from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

Principal on ‘leave of absence’ after more redundancies

by Gavin Drake

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Departure: Wycliffe Hall, Oxford DAVID HOWARD


WYCLIFFE HALL, the Evangelical theological college in Oxford, was tight-lipped this week about the sudden departure of its Principal, the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull. Rumours started circulating about his absence on Friday. The college’s council finally issued a statement late on Wednes­day afternoon to assert that he had not been dismissed. 

In its statement, the council con­firms that staff and students were told that Dr Turnbull was to take “a leave of absence”. It says: “The Coun­cil wishes to make it clear that the Principal has not been dis­missed. The Council and Richard are now in on-going discussions over his future role at Wycliffe, with Vice-Principal Simon Vibert assum­ing the position of Acting Principal. 


“We have every confidence in Simon, and in the rest of the staff, to ensure continuity and the efficient functioning of the Hall during this time.” 


The outcome of discussions with Dr Turnbull “will be communicated to staff and students in due course”, it states. “Our overriding priority is to ensure Wycliffe re­mains unequiv­ocally committed to equipping men and women as leaders, preachers, church planters and evangelists in the mission of proclaiming and living the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a deeply biblical under­standing of the nature of the Kingdom of God.” 


The decision about Dr Turnbull was taken last Friday morning. Just two days earlier, speaking to theChurch Times, Dr Turnbull con­firmed stories that three people had been made redundant. The move was part a staff reorganisation, he said, “designed to ensure we operate effectively under a more restrictive funding environment”. 


He said that all theological in­stitutions would be affected by changes to the Government’s fund­ing of higher education. “As Oxford University’s fees are rel­atively high, Wycliffe Hall will be more signi­ficantly affected than others. Having said that, we are proud to be part of Oxford and both our students and C of E dioceses recognise the value of the world-class education we are able to provide.” 


The three staff made redundant are two administrators and Wycliffe Hall’s director of Christian leader­ship, Will Donaldson. This week, Mr Donaldson expressed his love for the college and support for the stu­dents, but declined to comment further. 


In 2007, 12 members of Wycliffe’s staff resigned, alleging bullying and complaining about Dr Turnbull’s management style. One, Dr Elaine Storkey, took her case to an employ­ment tribunal, at which Wycliffe Hall accepted that she had been unfairly dismissed. 


Dr Turnbull has not been avail­able for comment since the weekend. He had been expected to lead a parish mission last weekend in Oughti­bridge, near Sheffield, but pulled out at the last minute. 


On the Virtue Online blog, the Revd Julian Mann wrote: “He withdrew from that on Friday, the day of his planned arrival, strongly indicating that from his perspective his departure was sudden. The explanation given to me as the minister of the parish on Friday morning for Dr Turnbull’s withdrawal from the mission was that he was on sick leave.” 


He described Dr Turnbull’s departure as “a massive loss for UK Anglican Evangelicals”. 


The college’s latest annual ac­counts, to June 2011, were lodged with the Charity Commission last month. They reveal that it would have made a deficit on its unrestricted funds of £149,080 had it not made £2.3 million from the sale of property. 


A spokesman for the Church of England confirmed that Wycliffe Hall had had to refund some of the grants and fees paid to it; but he said that this was “just a rebalancing between one year and the next. . . This happens with all colleges from time to time.”


Dr. Turnbull is not new to the atmosphere of controversy, in his role as Principal of Oxford University’s Wycliffe Hall, the well-known Evangelical Theological Institute for conservative Anglicans at the University.

There is obviously some concern amongst conservative Evangelicals, that Dr. Turnbull’s  leadership role at Wycliffe might be taken over by someone of a more liberal Evangelical Anglican persuasion – believing that this would deal a severe blow to the hard-line conservative groups, such as ‘Reform’ in the Church of England.

‘Reform’ has been battling to support the cause of anti-Women and anti-Gay policies in the Church, and Wycliffe, under Dr. Turnbull, has been a significant leader in that movement against any liberalisation on these particular issues.

For a more detailed scenario of the mystery around Dr. Turnbull’s departure from Wycliffe, there are articles by the Revd. Julian Mann, the Vicar of the parish of Oughtridge, near Sheffield, where Dr. Turnbull had been due to lead a Parish Mission, but which has since been cancelled. Details on ‘virtueonline’.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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