Church of England diocese asks for gay-friendly bishop
A Church of England diocese has made building bridges with the gay community part of its new bishop’s job description.
By Edward Malnick, and John Bingham – ‘The Telegraph’ – 9:00PM BST 27 Apr 2013
The panel, which met on Friday, was told that the successor to the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, who retired earlier this year, should build on “significant engagement” with “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities” in Manchester.
The move comes amid growing tensions within the Church over its attitude to gay worshippers and clergy.
Such a public endorsement of working with gay Anglicans by a major diocese will cheer liberals but be seen by traditionalists as a further erosion of their views.
Manchester’s move comes months after the Church dropped its prohibition on clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops.
The decision caused anger among traditionalists, including senior African bishops, who described the move as a “grave departure from the Church’s doctrine” by the Church’s House of Bishops.
As a result of the change Dr Jeffrey John, the openly gay Dean of St Albans, has been widely tipped for consideration as Bishop of Durham, a move which would catapult him into the third most senior post in the Church of England, and one held until recently by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby.
In Manchester a formal “statement of needs” drawn up by the diocese’s Vacancy in See committee and formally submitted to the Crown Nominations Commission – the panel responsible for the appointment – said it was important to note that the diocese is home to “one of Europe’s largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered communities”.
The community is dispersed across the diocese but also centred in the city’s “gay village”, the document says.
It praises its recently retired bishop for his work building relations with gay communities, saying: “Significant engagement with the LGBT community already takes place both at parochial and strategic levels within the diocese.
“The 2011 census revealed that there were 4,845 legally registered same-sex civil partnerships in the Greater Manchester districts and Rossendale. This is 4.6 % of the total number registered in England and Wales.”
The job description balances a demand for the successful candidate to “support family life” as well as building “positive relationships with the LBGT community”.
It was drawn up by 27 senior figures in the diocese who made up the Vacancy in See Committee – six of whom went on to join the Crown Nominations Commission, which is making the decision.
They include Canon Richard Hawkins, whose church in Oldham is a member of the gay-friendly Inclusive Church grouping, and Dr Peter Capon, a reader at a church in Rusholme which has hosted meetings of the traditionalist Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
Canon Andy Salmon, another member of the initial committee, said: “The gay community is a very important part of our wider community in the Manchester diocese.
“The profile I thought was good. It does not say anything like ‘we want a bishop who will push gay marriage’. We were careful about the things we said. It has to be approved by the whole Vacancy in See committee, which is quite a large and diverse group.”
The Rev Benny Hazlehurst, secretary of the Anglican campaign group Accepting Evangelicals, said: “This does sound very positive and does sound like a recognition of the real pastoral need which they are encountering. I hope that it is a sign of things to come from other dioceses.
“Recently Justin Welby has met with Peter Tatchell and, last week, the LGBT Anglican coalition.
“It remains to be seen what the outcome of meetings like that will be but I think there is perhaps a new willingness to engage.
“I think that what Manchester has done is an excellent start.”
However, the move was questioned by Canon Chris Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, a traditionalist group, who said no community should have a “privileged” status in the job description for the new bishop.
Among those who could be considered for the role is the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, one of the most prominent Church figures to speak publicly in favour of gay marriage.
A junior bishop in the Diocese of Oxford for 10 years, he would have the experience and profile to take over a diocese the size of Manchester.
Dr David Ison, the Dean of St Pauls’s in London, is also a prominent advocate of gay rights as well as having the experience of working in a major urban centre and of the north of England, both of which are also set out in the diocesan wish-list. But having only been in the post for just over a year, it might be thought to soon to move on.
Other bishops who might also be considered include the Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford, whose own diocese is due to disappear as part of a general merger of functions. A decision is expected within weeks.
There are currently an unusually high number of dioceses seeking new leadership after four bishops announced their retirements and the new archbishop left Durham.
It is understood that Dr John’s name was put forward for consideration in Durham by several people in the diocese and senior figures have been making discreet inquiries in St Albans about him.
The dean, who is in a celibate civil partnership, was twice in line to become a bishop but his appointment was blocked because of opposition from conservatives within the Church.
In 2010 he was considered by the CNC for the leadership of the Diocese of Southwark after the diocese’s statement of needs – now available on its website – asked for a bishop who would “continue the tradition of honouring the ministry of lesbian and gay clergy while sustaining ongoing dialogue on matters of human sexuality.”
A recent public listening exercise showed strong support for finding a figure similar to Archbishop Welby to continue new efforts to reach out to expand the church.
But members of the diocesan committee, which is responsible for drawing up a job description for the next Bishop of Durham, emphasised that this did not necessarily mean that his successor should be another evangelical and that someone from “another background” might be considered.
This is Good News emerging from the North of England – that the Diocese of Manchester opts for a ‘Gay-friendly Bishop’, who will help to educate the Church of England on matters of gender and sexuality, issues which for too long have been kept in the closet.
Dr. Jeffrey John, Dean of Saint Albans could be a contender, but then he is thought to be on the list of possibilities for the Diocese of Durham, vacated by the recently appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. To elect Jeffrey – in either see – would send a distinct signal to the Church of England hierarchy that the Church may be ready to move forward into the 21st century.
Another possible contender for Manchester, it is suggested in this article, might be the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr. Alan Wilson, whose advocacy for the LGBT community is well-known in the Church of England. Other possibilities have also been suggested.
Whoever is chosen for this post at Manchester, one cannot but admire the bravery of those responsible in the diocese for indicating the need for an openly inclusive chief pastor, who will help to herald a new era of honesty about such matters in the Mother Church of England.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand