'Headship' bishop appointed to see of Maidstone

05 May 2015

CHRIS COX/LAMBETH PALACE

'Distinctive ministry': Preb Rod Thomas, who will become the Bishop of Maidstone, with Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday

'Distinctive ministry': Preb Rod Thomas, who will become the Bishop of Maidstone, with Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday

THE first bishop for Evangelicals opposed to women bishops will be Prebendary Rod Thomas, Vicar of Elburton, and chairman of the conservative Evangelical pressure group Reform.

Prebendary Thomas's appointment as Bishop of Maidstone was announced on Tuesday morning by Downing Street. The Archbishop of Canterbury's proposal to fill the vacant see of Maidstone with a bishop who holds the conservative Evangelical view on headship had been approved by the Dioceses Commission in December (News, 12 December 2014).

Archbishop Welby introduced Prebendary Thomas to the media at a press conference at Lambeth Palace immediately after the announcement. He described him as "a tireless and effective contributor to the life of the Church, not only in his own parish but also through his work on the General Synod".

As a well-known leader of Evangelicals opposed to women bishops, Prebendary Thomas had engaged on the issue "very firmly and constructively and, invariably, extremely graciously", Archbishop Welby said.

During the final negotiations before the vote on the women-bishops legislation last year, the Church of England committed itself to appointing a "headship Evangelical" to the College of Bishops, to minister to any parish that could not accept a woman bishop. This promise had now been kept, Archbishop Welby said. "Rod clearly emerged as by far and away the best candidate."

Prebendary Thomas said that it was a "privilege and a challenge" to be asked to become Bishop of Maidstone. He said that he would support conservative Evangelical parishes in both Provinces, and hoped to become an assistant bishops in some dioceses.

"There is much that can be done to foster the process of mutual flourishing, and I think I can play a positive role in that," he said. A key part of his role would be to encourage headship Evangelicals to continue to put themselves forward for ordination.

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"I do think there has been a nervousness over the last year or so among some of those who would be considering ordination, because of uncertainty about how the future will pan out for them. I hope my appointment will be encouraging to them to play a full part in the Church."

He said he had no worries about working with female colleagues in the College of Bishops: he had always had good relations with everybody regardless of their convictions. He singled out the Bishop-designate of Gloucester, the Ven Rachel Treweek, as someone he admired and was friendly with, despite having opposing views on women's ordination.

When asked if he would lead conservative Evangelicals in playing a role in the shared conversations on sexuality, which began in some dioceses last week, he would only say that Evangelicals should engage with the issue when it came back to the Synod next year. Reform has been critical of the framework of the conversations (News, 10 October 2014).

He was also asked whether he would build bridges with dissident Anglicans in England affiliated with GAFCON rather than the C of E (News, 20 February, 17 April). "I want to encourage local church growth within the Church of England," he replied.

Prebendary Thomas is a member of the executive committee of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), a group of non-C of E churches aligned with GAFCON, and AMiE's general secretary, Canon Andy Lines, has welcomed his elevation to the see of Maidstone.

"The appointment opens the door to a new era of co-operation between AMiE and the Church of England," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Women and the Church (WATCH) said in a statement that the appointment raised questions as they did not believe "headship" and mutual flourishing could co-exist in the Church.

Archbishop Welby said it was vital that the House of Bishops kept the promise it had made to Evangelical opponents of women bishops. "This says that we take seriously as a Church our desire for every part of the Church - united in love for Christ, even if divided on other issues - to flourish and grow."

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