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Church Times Review of the Year 2019

20 December 2019


Bystanders watch the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris burn, in April. See gallery for more pictures

Bystanders watch the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris burn, in April. See gallery for more pictures


THE Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, was keen to take heat out of the Living in Love and Faith sexuality project, which he chairs. It would be a teaching process, not a decision-making one, he said. A letter signed by 104 conservative clerics in the diocese of Oxford criticised their bishops’ ad clerum about LGBTI+ people. Many threatened to seek alternative oversight. The Secretary to the House of Bishops, William Nye, rebutted criticism that new guidance on adapting baptism liturgy to mark a person’s gender transition represented new teaching.

New guidance from the House of Bishops stated that PCCs, diocesan boards of finance, and religious communities were required to report any “serious incident” — safeguarding and non-safeguarding — to the Charity Commission.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, faced a motion of no confidence after the defeat of her EU Withdrawal Agreement. The House of Commons rejected it by 325 votes to 306.

An outbreak of the Ebola virus in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo led to more than 400 deaths, and was the second deadliest outbreak to date.

The Archbishop of Canterbury apologised for mistakes made over the George Bell allegations. He welcomed plans for a statue of Bell in Canterbury Cathedral.


A LETTER to the Church Times, signed by 599 people, urged the House of Bishops to stick with its liturgical provision for those undergoing gender transition.

Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirates, the first visit by a pope to the Arab Peninsula.

Asia Bibi, acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan, finally made it to sanctuary in Canada.

Tens of thousands of schoolchildren in more than 60 towns and cities across the UK joined a climate strike, inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager.

Joe WareSchool children protest in Parliament Square, Westminster, as part of the school climate strikes, in February

The General Synod, meeting in Westminster, passed several motions on social issues, including a call for a task force on homelessness, and one denouncing discrimination and racism against Roma, Gypsy, and Traveller communities in the UK. It also rejected a call to remove the requirement for the Crown Nominations Commission to vote by secret ballot. Motions on evangelism were also carried, including one that backed establishing a worshipping community “on every significant social-housing estate in the country”.

Same-sex spouses would not be invited to the 2020 Lambeth Conference, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, confirmed. On the other hand, it was the first time that married gay bishops were being invited.


Fifty-one people were murdered at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, was charged with murder. He subsequently pleaded not guilty to all counts. A trial is due to start in June 2020. Archbishop Welby described the killings as “monstrous”.

An impassioned climate-change lament won Hannah Malcolm the first Theology Slam prize at St John’s, Hoxton, in London. A cyclone that swept through Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe was described by charities as “disaster upon existing disaster”.

Stefano CagnoniThe finalists who took part in the inaugural Theology Slam, in March: (l-r) Hannah Barr, Hannah Malcolm, and Sara Prats

Australia’s most senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, was sentenced to six years in prison for the sexual abuse of two choirboys in the 1990s

Churches across the country were urged to hold “tea and prayer drop-ins” to encourage reconciliation over Brexit.

The Royal College of Physicians adopted a neutral position on assisted dying, after a survey of its Fellows and members.

The Independent Reviewer, Sir William Fittall, ruled on the Wakefield Cathedral notice-sheet row. A regular worshipper was entitled to be told the gender of the celebrant before a eucharist, Sir William concluded.


THE Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, relinquished supervision of safeguarding in his diocese after a complaint about his handling of an offender. The Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Christine Wilson, stepped away from her duties while a safeguarding complaint was investigated. The National Safeguarding steering group rejected recommendations to centralise oversight.

The Archbishop of Canterbury launched a commission on housing. It was time, he said, “for a radical look at what enables people to live in communities”. He attended a retreat with South Sudanese leaders in Rome, convened by the Pope. The President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, was deposed by the army.

vatican mediaPope Francis kisses the shoes of the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, in April

Fire gutted the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris; within days, more than €1 billion had been pledged for its restoration.

The 30 June deadline to leave the EU was extended until 31 October. The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, was grateful that the prospect of a “damaging no-deal outcome appears to be receding”.

Christians joined Extinction Rebellion protests that brought parts of London to a standstill to promote faster action on climate change.

Hundreds of people died in targeted attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Day.

The Anglican Consultative Council, in Hong Kong, held its 17th meeting (ACC-17).


AID agencies reported that thousands of people had fled their homes as the Syrian government launched an offensive to capture the last rebel-held area of Idlib.

An attempt to bar traditionalists from ordination in the Church in Wales was heavily defeated at the Church’s Governing Body.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its report on the disgraced former Bishop Peter Ball. The Church had failed to recognise the seriousness of Ball’s conduct, and the Prince of Wales had been “misguided” to support him.

marc morrisThe 21 for 21 interfaith activists aged under 40, and three highly commended entrants, at Lambeth Palace, in May, where they received trophies in recognition of their interfaith work. The awards were a joint project between the Church Times, Jewish News, British Muslim TV, and Coexist House

Six people, including a priest, were shot in an attack during a eucharist in Burkina Faso.

The Brexit Party emerged as the biggest party in the European Parliamentary elections, followed by the LibDems. The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that he was “fearful for the future”.

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, was suspended over a safeguarding issue. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that his basis was information provided by the police, which, if proved, would lead him to conclude that Bishop Lowson presented “a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people”. Archbishop Welby said that there was no allegation that Bishop Lowson had committed abuse.


A UN report that argued that the British Government’s approach to social security was condemning the poorest to lives that were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” was rejected by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, as “nonsense”.

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, urged the one million people who were protesting against changes to the extradition law to “calm down” and seek a resolution through debate rather than protest.

Boris Johnson’s candidature for 10 Downing Street was queried owning to concerns about his veracity by, among others, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes.

geoff crawfordThe Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, tends the gardens of Lambeth Palace, on World Environment Day, in June, before Green Health Live 2, a conference that focused on the health benefits of green spaces and gardening, particularly within a parish and a chaplaincy context

A C of E report, All Kids Count, called the two-child limit for those on benefit “fundamentally unjust”. It would tip 300,000 children into poverty, and push one million impoverished children deeper into poverty by 2024, it said.

Clergy child-abusers had been able to carry on offending because the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Birmingham had been obsessed with defending its own reputation, IICSA reported.

Allegations were made against the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, a retired priest in Southwark diocese and former Minister of Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Wimbledon, that beatings had taken place as part of what he called a “system of mutual encouragement”.


UNICEF warned that Idlib, in Syria, was “on the brink of a humanitarian nightmare”. Heavy bombardment of the region had forced 330,000 people to flee in the previous six weeks.

Protesters stormed the Hong Kong legislature. The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, condemned their actions.

The Methodist Conference voted to permit, in principle, the marriage of same-sex couples on Methodist premises by Methodist ministers. A final decision is due to be made in July 2020.

Christians in the United States joined protests against President Trump’s immigration policies, which included the detention of children and adults in what were termed by Democrats “concentration camps”.

At the General Synod’s sessions in York, concerns over proposals for the reconciliation of ministries prompted members to vote for a more measured pace in implementing the Covenant with the Methodist Church. A standing ovation was given to Phil Johnson, a survivor of abuse by Bishop Peter Ball, who suggested that “it would be nice if the Church spent as much on supporting survivors as it does on lawyers.”

sam atkinsAndrew Graystone (left), advocate for survivors of abuse, talks to Peter Adams at the General Synod in York, in July. Mr Graystone spent the meeting of the Synod outside the chamber fasting

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York took to the witness stand, on separate days, at the last set of IICSA hearings looking at the C of E. They both, for the first time, supported calls for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse to the police and statutory authorities.

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, published his report on persecuted Christians. He urged the Government to be “the global leader in championing freedom of religion and belief”.

Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. Church leaders were quick to warn him of the predicted consequences of a no-deal Brexit.


People of all faiths and none came together to provide “practical and emotional support” after the partial damage of the dam holding back the Toddbrook Reservoir near Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, said. The evacuation of residents had “prompted a sense of community and care that has been wonderful to see”.

PAA Royal Air Force Chinook transports sandbags, in August, as work continues to shore up the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir near Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire

Thirty-one people were killed in two mass shootings in the United States. The Bishop of Rio Grande, the Rt Revd Michael Hunn, in whose diocese 21 were killed, said that the US needed to come together across the conservative-liberal divide to seek a middle way between “everybody having guns, or nobody”.

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy, returned to his duties after a tribunal dismissed a complaint made against him. Dr Percy had been suspended since November 2018.

The Prime Minister asked the Queen to prorogue Parliament from mid-September (shortly after MPs would return from summer recess) until a Queen’s Speech on 14 October which would set out a new legislative programme. A letter signed by 25 diocesan bishops warned the Government against showing “cavalier disregard” for Parliament.

The Archbishop of Canterbury agreed in principle to chair a citizens’ forum to discuss Brexit and national reconciliation.

Canon Mark Oakley was awarded the 2019 Michael Ramsey Prize for his book The Splash of Words.


The Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful and void. The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, said that the court’s ruling had “not been surprising”. The Bishop of Leeds wrote that the Prime Minister “lied repeatedly” about the motivation behind his decision to prorogue.

The Archbishop of Canterbury apologised for telling Remainers in the UK to “stop whingeing” about the EU referendum result. A statement from the College of Bishops saying that the EU referendum result should be “honoured” was widely criticised.

PADame Caroline Spelman, the Second Estates Commissioner, who announced that she would be standing down as an MP

About one million people — including 200,000 children — were suffering a food crisis in Mozambique, six months after Cyclone Idai struck the region, UNICEF said.

The annual ministry statistics published by Church House showed that the spike in clergy vocations reported in the past two years would not be repeated this year, putting the target of a 50-per-cent increase by 2020 in doubt.

During a ten-day tour of India, Archbishop Welby prostrated himself in Amritsar at the memorial to those killed in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, and apologised “in the name of Christ”.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman MP, announced her decision to stand down as an MP. She said that death threats had been a factor in her decision.

The former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, died in Singapore, aged 95.

London beat Carlisle/Blackburn/Durham in the final of the Church Times Cricket Cup.


CHRISTIANS took part in Extinction Rebellion protests that brought Westminster to a standstill, despite multiple arrests. Lambeth Bridge was occupied briefly and rechristened the Faith Bridge.

joe wareThe occupation of Lambeth Bridge, at the end of September, organised by Christian Climate Action

The four main Churches in Ireland called — to no avail — on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to reinstate the Northern Ireland Assembly to prevent the liberalisation of abortion laws in the Province. Later in the month, the Assembly still in suspension, legislation was imposed from Westminster on abortion, same-sex marriage, and civil partnerships.

The oversight of the Channel Islands should be transferred from the Bishop of Winchester to the Bishop of Salisbury, a commission concluded.

Anglicans travelled from the UK to Rome for the canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman.

paA tapestry depicting John Henry Newman hangs from the façade of St Peter’s Basilica, in October, at his canonisation

MPs gave preliminary approval to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which the Prime Minister had negotiated in Brussels, but voted against a proposal to fast-track it. Bishops criticised the Government’s handling of the Brexit process. Once a no-deal Brexit was off the table, Opposition parties agreed to a General Election on 12 December.

Speaking at a Lambeth Palace event on mental health, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he took an anti-depressant every morning. “Big deal.”

Thirty-nine bodies of Vietnamese migrants were discovered in a refrigerated lorry in Essex.


A STATEMENT on Jewish-Christian relations, God’s Unfailing Word, was published by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission. It said that Christians had been guilty of “promoting and fostering negative stereotypes of Jewish people”.

The Bishops of the Blackburn diocese expressed their delight that Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Labour MP for Chorley, had been voted the new Speaker of the House of Commons, succeeding John Bercow.

The village of Fishlake in South Yorkshire, was among those affected by widespread flooding. Parishioners defied orders to evacuate their homes and turned their church into a command centre during the crisis.

paSt Cuthbert’s, Fishlake, is used as a collection point

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, admitted at an IICSA hearing that he had failed to support a survivor of abuse when he was Archbishop of Birmingham.

The appointment of a new President of Churches Together in England was blocked because the nominee, a Quaker, was in a same-sex marriage.

The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said that a “new poison” had taken hold of the Labour Party. He indicated in an article in The Times that Jewish people should shun Labour in the election. The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted his support.

Two people, Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, were murdered by Usman Khan during a conference on prisoner rehabilitation at Fish­mongers’ Hall, in central London. Khan had been released from prison under licence one year ago. The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, warned against using the attack “to increase the prison population”.


THE Conservatives won a landslide victory in the General Election: the party won 364 seats; Labour, 203 seats; the SNP, 48 seats; and the Liberal Democrats, 11. The Bishop in Europe, Dr Innes, said that he hoped that the new government would “unify, not divide”. Jeremy Corbyn said that he would not lead the party to another election. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, lost her seat.

The next Archbishop of York is to be the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Downing Street announced. Bishop Cottrell succeeds Dr Sentamu, who retires on 7 July next year.

It was announced that St John’s College, Nottingham, was to close, after 156 years. The College’s Council had agreed “that the operation of the current configuration of St John’s is no longer financially viable in the long term,” a statement said.

PABoris Johnson in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, on Friday morning  

Vulnerable nations and campaigners expressed disappointment at the outcome of the UN climate summit, COP25, in Madrid. It was “not able to meet our expectations in raising ambition to address the concerns of our people”, Sonam Wangdi, from Bhutan, said.

The sixth anniversary of the civil war in South Sudan was marked. Tearfund called for “support to empower women, youth, and people with disabilities to manage their own response to the conflict”.


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