Dr Butler blasts irregular ordinations

by
02 November 2006

THE DIOCESE of Southwark "does not do schism", and the three men involved in unauthorised ordinations in south London on 2 November have no legal claim to exercise ordained ministry in the Church of England in the diocese, said the Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, on Tuesday.

The Bishop has revoked the licence of the Revd Richard Coekin, minister of Dundonald Church, a church-plant in Wimbledon. Mr Coekin invited Bishop Martin Morrison of the Church of England in South Africa (CESA) to ordain Andy Fenton, Richard Perkins, and Loots Lambrechts to serve in church plants in the south London area. The action was encouraged by Reform, and hosted by Christ Church, Surbiton, whose Vicar, the Revd Graham Wintle, is chairman of Reform Southwark.

Mr Coekin said the action followed Dr Butler's refusal to distance himself from the House of Bishops' pastoral statement on civil partnerships. Mr Coekin has spearheaded church-planting in Southwark for a number of years. Dundonald Church, which operates from school premises, was planted in 1990 by Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, a proprietary chapel run by trustees.

A number of Evangelical clergy in the diocese of Southwark who did not wish to be identified, on Tuesday described Mr Coekin's church-planting methods as variously "undisciplined", "non-collaborative", "gung-ho", "provocative", "underhand", and "two fingers up".

His eight congregations, numbering around 600 members and now brought together as the "Co-Mission Initiative", operate outside diocesan guidelines, and do not pay parish share. Emmanuel's practice of sending its own candidates for selection and training, in the expectation of receiving them back into its church-plants, has long been a bone of contention in the diocese.

Dr Butler said in a letter to Southwark clergy on Tuesday: "Parish clergy, Archdeacons, and Bishops alike have been involved in an ongoing exchange with Richard concerning the necessity for church- plants to occur only with the agreement of the vicar of the parish in which the plant is set. That has not always been the case. . . For this reason, we were not prepared to support the selection and training of further ordination candidates from or for Dundonald, unless future church-plants followed our diocesan guidelines."

Neither Mr Fenton nor Mr Perkins, both of whom trained at Oak Hill, was sponsored by Southwark. The third man, Loots Lambrechts, who trained in South Africa, is to serve a bilingual South African congregation in Wimbledon.

The Church of England recognises the orders of the clergy in CESA, a breakaway Church, but is not in communion with it. It would have been an ecclesiastical offence under the Overseas Clergy Measure of 1967 to have brought in a bishop from a Church that was in communion with the C of E. Also, an overseas bishop can ordain only with the written consent of the diocesan bishop and a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The CESA rite used was unauthorised, so that if the three men now operate as priests in the C of E, they will be breaking the law.

Mr Coekin informed Dr Butler in a letter on 25 October that, unless the Bishop dissociated himself from the statement on partnerships, he would regard himself in "temporary impaired communion" with him, and would proceed with the ordination of "eligible staff". He did not name a date or venue for such an ordination, and did not inform the Bishop further. Although some attenders received only 24 hours notice of the event, the venue had reportedly already been booked when Mr Coekin wrote to the Bishop. A source said on Tuesday that secrecy had been thought necessary in order to keep the secular press away from the event, and to avoid the Bishop's taking out an injunction.

After the ordinations, the Co-Mission Initiative invited signatories to a statement of "full support" and "recognition of the validity" of the ordinations. An early signatory among the 177 names was Canon Chris Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream and a newly elected member of the General Synod. He confirmed on Tuesday that he had attended the ordinations, and had signed the statement in full knowledge that the rite used had been unauthorised.

He said on Tuesday: "My presence there indicated our support for gospel ministry and the growth of the Church. While not approving of an irregular ordination, we were expressing our understanding of the pressures behind the decision which the people of Dundonald had made, to do something which they were well aware was irregular . . ."

Dr Philip Giddings, convener of Anglican Mainstream, was not a signatory. Asked on Tuesday whether he approved of the action, he said: "I don't approve or disapprove. I understand the reasons that have produced this, just as I understand the frustration and irritation of neighbouring parishes and the diocese. . . As far as I'm concerned, it's symptomatic of a breakdown in pastoral relations, and what should be addressed is not this particular symptom, but how reconciliation can be achieved."

The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, a member of Reform, has not signed. He would make no comment on Wednesday, but referred the Church Times to the Anglican Mainstream response on civil partnerships.

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