Jeffrey John considered for Southwark but rejected, leaks say

by
07 July 2010

by astaff reporter

A RUMOUR that the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, was being considered as the next Bishop of Southwark provoked a strong reaction from conservatives in the diocese this week.

The rumour emerged in a Sunday Telegraph story, said to be based on a leak from inside the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), that Dr John had been accepted on to the list of candidates for the vacant see, and was not vetoed by the Archbishops of Canterbury or York, the CNC's chairmen.

The CNC met on Monday and Tuesday this week to consider the list. At the end of its meeting, it forwarded two names, in order of preference, to the Prime Minister. A further report in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday evening stated that Dr John's name was not one of them. Dr Williams was said to be furious at the leak.

In response to the rumour of Dr John's possible appointment, Reform, a conservative Evan­gelical network, said in a statement: "Dr John's teaching regarding homosexual practice is contrary to both the Bible and to the current doctrine of the Church of England.

"To appoint him Bishop would send two very clear signals. First, that the diocese of Southwark wants to walk in a different direction to the Church of England's doctrine. Second, that there is now little to stop the Church of England proceeding in the same divisive direction as the Episcopal Church in the US. We would support churches in Southwark seeking alternative oversight should Dr John be appointed."

The Revd Paul Perkin, Vicar of St Mark's, Battersea Rise, and a member of Reform, said he had nothing against Dr John personally, but was concerned about some of his teachings. "I would like to know if he regrets some of the things he has said in the past," he said on Tuesday.

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Anglican Mainstream, the organ­isation set up to oppose Dr John's candidacy in Reading in 2003, issued a call for prayer for Southwark.

Supporters of Dr John were more circumspect. "We're holding our breath," said one.

The leak, if it is proved to have taken place, is the most serious breach in confidentiality in the history of the CNC and its predecessor, the Crown Appointments Commission. For it to have been true, Dr John's name would have had to be submitted, with three references, a personal statement, and the endorsement of his dio­cesan bishop, to the first of the CNC's two meetings about South­wark. The first meeting would also have looked at the job description drawn up by Southwark, which said that it was looking for someone to honour the ministry of gay and lesbian clergy.

There are 14 voting members of the CNC: the two Archbishops, six central members, and six nominated from the diocese under considera­tion. A briefing document states: "Discussions about individuals and the supporting documentation must remain confidential. This is to pro­tect all candidates considered from undue pressure and also to protect the new bishop and his family from rumour, as well as individual members of the commission."

A church spokesman declined to say whether the leak was being investigated. He said: "The Church has gone a long way in opening up the appointments process, but the contents of the meetings themselves have to remain confidential, in the light of the continuing ministry of those who may be discussed."

 

Leader

Press

Dr Jeffrey John's name is believed to have been added to the shortlist for the Area Bishop of Reading in 2003. The then Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Richard Harries, said he had been persuaded to add it after dis­cussions with others, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, because of Dr John's impressive gifts and his references. Dr Williams was a friend and fellow Welshman.

The fact that he was in a stable gay relationship was well known. He and his partner, the Revd Grant Holmes, now in a civil partnership, have been together for three decades.

The announcement of the ap­point­ment provoked strong pro­tests from within the UK and the wider Anglican Communion. Evan­gelical clergy in the Oxford diocese threatened to withhold their parish share, and nine senior bishops criticised the appointment in a letter to the press, despite a state­ment by Dr John that he was celibate and would adhere to the Church's teaching on homo­sexuality.

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Six weeks later, he was sum­moned to a six-hour meeting with Dr Williams and asked to step down for the good of the wider Church. It is said that the Arch­bishop knelt in front of his friend afterwards and asked for his blessing.

Several months later, Dr John was made Dean of St Albans to much more muted protest.

Bishop Harries said later he had wanted to resign in protest, but had been persuaded to stay on by colleagues. He retired three years later.

In September 2008, Dr John's name was linked with a vacancy in the Welsh diocese of Bangor, but he was not appointed.

'He held on to God for me' - the man behind the row

At the time of the Reading affair, Benny Hazlehurst saw a less publicised side of Jeffrey John

MERELY the prospect of Jeffrey John's being considered as a bishop has resulted in statements and counter-statements by the antagonists in the debate over sexuality. In such situations, the first casualty is often any sense of the real person behind the issue, and of the good fruit in their ministry which has led them to be considered for senior appointment.

I have known Jeffrey John for almost 30 years, and, although a committed Evangelical, I have nothing but respect for his ministry and vocation.

He was my college chaplain at Brasenose College, Oxford. I was heavily involved in the University Christian Union. Despite our differences, I found him an inspiring preacher, clearly longing for people to grow in the love of God, and we worked together on several projects in college, including evangelistic events. The man I encountered was a deeply devout minister of the gospel, who faithfully spoke the words of Jesus with a conviction that was contagious.

Our paths did not cross again for some years, until he was a vicar in south-east London, and I was licensed by the Bishop of Woolwich to encourage outreach in UPA housing estates. Jeffrey invited me to work with his church, and an estate in his parish. Over the few months I was there, I saw a growing church of people hungry to know more of God - there, in large part, because of Jeffrey's ministry.

Around this time, I asked Jeffrey if he would be my spiritual director. I have always looked for spiritual directors from a different tradition but with that same zeal for seeing people come to faith.

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Also around this time, he began to be more open about his sexuality; but what I saw again and again was the fruit of his ministry. As controversy began to grow, Jesus's words kept coming to mind: "By their fruit you will know them." It was this "good fruit" that began to challenge my own Evangelical understanding of homosexuality.

In April 2003, my wife was dragged under the wheels of an 18-ton truck, just round the corner from our home. I arrived at the scene as the first ambulance crews arrived, and sat next to her on the tarmac for the next two hours as they stabilised her enough to be airlifted to hospital. During the next few months, her life was frequently in the balance.

The strain of supporting her, while caring for our young children and continuing to run a busy parish, took its toll. I was angry with God, feeling abandoned, hurt, and betrayed. When I was falling apart under the strain, the person who did most to hold me together was my spiritual director, Jeffrey. He prayed for me, and with me, when I couldn't pray. At times when I was unable to, he held on to God for me, and ministered Christ to me in the midst of all the pain, confusion, and despair.

Paradoxically, while he was holding my life together, his own was falling apart. It was just as he was appointed Bishop of Reading. At the very time he was supporting me, he had become the focus of the media's all-seeing eye, being chased by journalists, torn apart by half the Church, and held up to be hit again by the other half.

During the week when he was unable to go home because of the press camped outside his door, when a group of bishops were writing letters opposing his consecration - at that very time, he was being Christ to me, as my wife lay in a hospital side room with septicaemia, fighting for her life. "By their fruit you will know them" came to my mind again and again.

Whatever the outcome in Southwark, we would do well to remember that, at the centre of this debate, is a child of God, who has a passion for seeing people strengthened in their faith in Christ, and the pastoral heart to sit with them through pain and suffering to hold them close to God. Such are the marks of Christ, and do not deserve to be pushed aside in controversies over doctrine, culture, or biblical interpretation.

Jesus was, as we know, silent on the issue of homosexuality; but he was very clear in the way we should treat each other. In John's Gospel, his last command before he went to the cross was: "Love each other as I have loved you." Let us pray that this Christ-like love will characterise our words and actions more than it has in the past.

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