THE diocese of Chelmsford “regrets” the decision taken by the vicars of two churches in Essex to declare publicly no confidence in the “unbiblical” leadership of the Bishop, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell — and that of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York — over what they call sexuality, a spokesman has said.
The Vicar of St Elisabeth’s, Becontree, the Revd Steven Hanna, and the Vicar of St George’s, Dagenham, the Revd Simon Smallwood, wrote in an open letter last week that motions of no confidence had been passed “unanimously” by St Elisabeth’s, and with one vote against and one abstention at St George’s, at their annual church meetings, in April. The Area Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, was also included in the no-confidence motion.
It came after Bishop Cottrell told his diocesan synod in March that there was “no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships — perhaps a eucharist — cannot be offered” to same-sex couples soon. His proposals would put into practice the “radical inclusion” of LGBT Christians called for by the Archbishops (News, 17 February, 17 March). Mr Hanna later wrote to Bishop Cottrell to say that his church would not attend a deanery event on discipleship (News, 24 March).
But a spokesman for the diocese responded on Wednesday that the letter was “premature” and possibly damaging. “The Archbishops and the Bishop have not authorised any change to C of E doctrine or practice regarding marriage but they are encouraging open discussions between Christians in a desire for the Church to be inclusive,” he said. “We, therefore, believe the decision of these churches to be premature at the very least and at worst damaging to the good relationships that we enjoy across a diversity of opinions.”“No confidence”: the Revd Steven Hanna has criticised “unbiblical” leadership
The letter, published on the blog Anglican Mainstream, read: “Given the current turmoil in the Church of England, especially the unbiblical leadership offered by Archbishops Welby and Sentamu in their joint letter after the February General Synod and the lack of biblical leadership in our own diocese of Chelmsford, particularly the failure to teach sound doctrine and the refusal to refute, publicly, false teaching and practice, each congregation was asked to consider the current leadership in light of the biblical requirement for bishops.”
The motion proposed by St George’s also resolved to reject visiting preachers who did not make a commitment to its theological position statement on sexuality, and no longer to consider as Anglicans clerics who had “walked away” from orthodox teachings on marriage. It described the synodical discussions and papers on sexuality as a “crisis”.
Mr Hanna said on Wednesday that he had since received a response from Lambeth Palace, but that it was “not encouraging” because it referred only to the legalising of same-sex marriage in the UK. “It failed to comment on what is happening now,” he said. “It was odd: the Archbishops were trying to give the impression that they were working hard to maintain the line of orthodoxy when evidently that is not the case.”
A spokesperson confirmed that Lambeth Palace had responded to the letter but declined to comment on private correspondence.
In a letter to the Church Times this week, however, the former Second Church Estates Commissioner Sir Tony Baldry reminded Mr Hanna and Mr Smallwood that “the Church of England is an episcopal Church, in which clergy take an oath of canonical obedience to their diocesan bishop.”
The clerics should also consider that the General Synod was responsible for matters of worship and doctrine, Sir Tony wrote, and that it was the clergy who had voted against the report on sexuality from the Bishops, who were bringing a teaching document to the next sessions.