Election of bishop exposes divisions

29 November 2019

The Ven. David McClay, the Archdeacon of Down since 2013, has been appointed Bishop of Down & Dromore

The Ven. David McClay, the Archdeacon of Down since 2013, has been appointed Bishop of Down & Dromore

TENSIONS between the liberal broad-church and the Evangelical wings within the Church of Ireland have been exposed by a petition to the House of Bishops urging them not to ratify the election of a new bishop because of his past connections with GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference).

The Ven. David McClay, the Archdeacon of Down since 2013, and Rector of Willowfield, east Belfast, for 18 years, has been appointed Bishop of Down & Dromore, to succeed the Rt Revd Harold Miller, who retired on 30 September.

In an open letter to the House of Bishops, 36 clergy, including four deans and 12 canons, have queried Archdeacon McClay’s appointment which was due to be ratified by the House on Wednesday, not least because of GAFCON’s opposition to the part played by women in priesthood or the episcopate, as stated in the group’s task force of June last year, in which they recommended that their provinces should only consecrate men as bishops.

Thirty-six senior Church of Ireland clergy have put their names to an open letter objecting to the appointment of the newly elected Bishop of Down & Dromore because of his involvement with a conservative Anglican group. In a letter to the Church’s House of Bishops, the signatories say that they are concerned that Archdeacon McClay may not be an appropriate choice because of his membership of the GAFCON Ireland movement.

The letter says that GAFCON principles are “antithetical” to those that a Church of Ireland bishop must pledge in the rite of consecration, including “fostering unity, care for the oppressed, and building up the people of God in all their spiritual and sexual diversity”.

“How could Archdeacon McClay possibly accept a woman as his colleague in the House of Bishops, or uphold the doctrine of the Church of Ireland on women in the episcopacy?” the signatories of the letter asked. They urged the House not to approve the Archdeacon’s consecration.

On Tuesday, Archdeacon McClay said: “I describe myself as a conservative Evangelical. GAFCON does not have a province in Ireland: it has a branch, and I am not the holder of an office in that organisation. I did attend two gatherings — in Nairobi, and, more recently, in Jerusalem — with about 50 others from Ireland.

“I am a member of the New Wine movement, which began in England, and with which Archbishop Welby is also involved.”

Archdeacon McClay rejected the suggestion that his views were incompatible with ordained women in ministry. “I have women serving in my parish . . . I voted for the ordination of women.”

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