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Estates champion be next Bishop of Barking in Chelmsford diocese

30 November 2021


Ms Cullens (left) with the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani

Ms Cullens (left) with the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani

THE next Area Bishop of Barking, in the diocese of Chelmsford, is to be the Revd Lynne Cullens, Rector of Stockport and Brinnington, and a champion of working-class vocations, it was announced on Tuesday.

Ms Cullens chairs the National Estate Churches Network, which supports people active in Christian ministry on social-housing estates, and is also a member of the Church’s Selection Oversight Group. This has helped to develop a new framework aimed at broadening the range of people exploring a ministerial vocation (News, 27 April 2018; News, 25 June). She also serves on the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Local Community (News, 16 July).

Ordained in 2012, her ministry has been in the diocese of Chester, as assistant curate of Congleton, NSM of Sandbach Heath with Wheelock, and latterly as Priest-in-Charge of St John the Baptist and St Andrew, Crewe. She has held her present appointment since 2019. Before ordination, she was the CEO of a charity.

In 2019, she wrote of her “decidedly working-class background” in Ordsall, Salford, in the 1960s. In a list illustrating the difficulty of defining class, and the presence of assumptions and stereotypes, she noted that, born to an unmarried mother in a home with a tin bath and an outside toilet, she was “not rough and ready” or “illiterate”, did not manage money badly, or make poor decisions. She was left to be a single parent and her children, eligible for free school meals, now worked in law and accountancy. Despite having served as a charity CEO, she had been “told by middle-class church leaders that they felt there was little leadership ability in me”.

The Church was “unhealthily and I would say, sinfully, dominated by middle-class culture”, she warned. “Continuing to prefer the deployment of middle-class clergy rather than change the structures to nurture indigenous leadership — or even attempting to repair things by sending middle-class clergy on placement into working-class areas — is woefully short of the mark (Comment, 1 March 2019).”

Welcoming Ms Cullens’s appointment on Tuesday, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, said: “Her passion for social justice and serving local communities has been a hallmark of her ministry and will serve her well.”

The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Mark Tanner, spoke of her “energetic grace and persistent imagination in serving those who have least”, while the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Sam Corley, said that she had been “consistent in creating spaces where the voices of those who are too often marginalised can be heard and responded to effectively”.

He said: “Lynne has this incredible ability to ask difficult questions and name uncomfortable truths with a combination of steel and grace that help to release justice and effect change.”

Ms Cullens will succeed the Rt Revd Peter Hill, who retired earlier this year. She will be consecrated bishop in the New Year, starting her episcopal ministry in the spring. The Barking Episcopal Area covers the five London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest, as well as Harlow and Epping Forest and Ongar in the County of Essex.

The population of east London and Essex is set to grow by 300,000 over the decade, and the diocese plans to plant 101 new Christian communities in response. In 2017, it received a £2-million strategic development fund grant to work in four new housing areas including Barking Riverside, one of the largest areas of regeneration and new housing in Europe (News, 2 January 2017). An additional grant of £3.85 million was announced in 2019, to establish 11 new congregationsm including one on the Becontree estate in Barking and Dagenham, once the largest council estate in Europe (News, 25 January 2019).

As a member of the Archbishops’ housing commission, Ms Cullens has spoken of being “convicted of the fact that human flourishing relies not just on building houses but communities. We are unrivalled experts in this. Building them is what we do (News, 16 July 2021).”

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