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
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
"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.
Anglican Mainstream, the organisation set up to oppose Dr
John's candidacy in Reading in 2003, issued a call for prayer for
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."
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
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
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
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
'He held on to God for me' - the man behind the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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