THE next Suffragan Bishop of Ebbsfleet will be the Revd Dr Rob Munro, Downing Street announced on Friday. Although Ebbsfleet is in Canterbury diocese, under the House of Bishops Declaration, Dr Munro will function as a bishop to conservative Evangelical parishes across the whole Church of England whose PCCs have passed resolutions on the ministry of women.
The previous Bishop of Ebbsfleet was the Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall, who provided episcopal ministry to traditionalist Anglo-Catholic parishes in Canterbury Province. He resigned last year to become a Roman Catholic (News, 10 September 2021).
In July, the Dioceses Commission approved name changes to the bishoprics that provide episcopal ministry to conservatives and traditionalists. The commission ruled that the Ebbsfleet title would go to the successor to the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, who retired in October, and who provided episcopal ministry to parishes that held a complementarian theology (News, 8 July).
The suffragan see of Oswestry, in Lichfield diocese, was revived to provide episcopal ministry to traditionalist Anglo-Catholic parishes. It was announced last week that the Revd Paul Thomas would be the Bishop of Oswestry (News, 2 December).
Dr Munro, who is 59, has been the Rector of St Mary’s, Cheadle, in Chester diocese, for 19 years, and Rural Dean of Cheadle for the past six years.
Before training for ordination, Dr Munro was a PE and Maths teacher. He trained for ordination at Oak Hill Theological College, and was ordained priest in 1994. He served his title in St John the Baptist, Hartford, in Chester diocese, and was then Rector, for six years, of St Wilfrid, Davenham, in the same diocese.
Dr Munro has been a member of the General Synod since 2005, and has served on the Dioceses Commission. He is a member of the council of the Church Society. He is married to Sarah, and they have three adult children.
After the Downing Street announcement, Dr Munro’s nomination was welcomed by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, in All Souls’, Langham Place, in central London, on Friday morning. Dr Munro’s first job was as a teaching assistant at All Souls’ C of E Primary School.
Speaking on Friday, Dr Munro said: “My prayer for the churches that the constituency serves is that we see a better connectedness within the life of our community. We have so much to contribute across the constituency. There are 148 resolution churches in 32 of the 42 dioceses, where I am able to serve with the permission of the diocesan bishops. . .
“We need each other to be the body of Christ. We need not to be a basket of body parts, but to walk together as one body to be a witness to Jesus Christ to our world.”
He said that resolution churches had, on average, 44 children in attendance — significantly higher than the national average. “I hope that’s something we can share and encourage in the wider Church, some of that expertise.”
Speaking to the Church Times after the announcement, Dr Munro expanded upon why he thought that resolution churches were attracting children and young people.
“I think there is a simplicity in sharing the good news that resolution churches have, and the sacrifice that they bring to that ministry,” he said. “And I think those two things often mean they go the extra mile to serve in communities. And when you do that, I think that opens the door for young people to hear a different voice.
“Our culture speaks loudly and in a way that often puts them under great pressure. But I think when the Church speaks with simplicity and sacrifice, it can be heard and see lives changed. And then, when some people’s lives have changed, that is a witness to their peers as well. So there’s definitely a bit of that ripple effect that goes out.”
Dr Munro signalled that he was keen to build on the work of Bishop Thomas in fostering a safe and healthy culture in the conservative Evangelical constituency. Bishop Thomas published “The Maidstone Commitments” in April (News, 29 April), a product of a working group convened last year in the wake of a lessons-learnt review by the independent safeguarding charity Thirtyone:Eight of the activities of the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, a former minister of Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Ridgway, in Wimbledon (News, 26 March 2021). The review identified a culture of fear at Emmanuel, but also in the wider conservative Evangelical constituency.
Dr Munro said on Friday: “Abuse of power is sinful, wherever it comes, in any part of the Church, and it goes actually against the self-sacrificial love that is the defining characteristic of complementarian relationships. So if we don’t live what we preach, things go wrong.
“I think, learning the lessons, there does need to be a greater mutual accountability, and definitely a greater transparency and the ability to speak truth to power. My experience is that having teams of men and women at different levels in leadership is one of those safeguards. Singular ministries aren’t biblical ones: they’re always shared in the New Testament, and, because of that, there are safeguards that are in place.”
The Maidstone Commitments also said that: “PCCs should state their complementarian position in an open and transparent manner.” Some campaigners, however, have argued that churches that subscribe to a complementarian theology and have limits to the authority of women should make it much clearer on their websites.
Dr Munro said on Friday: “Churches need to say what’s most important to them, and what’s most important to complementarian parishes is actually the gospel and serving their communities — it’s the normal things of church.
“Most churches in the Church of England don’t put their theology of ministry on the website. . . Churches need to be open and honest, but I’ve found complementarian churches will encourage men and women in their ministry, but they express it in a particular way.”
The College of Bishops is due to finalise next week what proposals will formally be presented to the General Synod in February concerning same-sex marriage (News, 4 November), after the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process.
Asked about what he hoped the next steps would be, Dr Munro said: “The House of Bishops is obviously still debating and discussing, and I actually will not be part of the crucial conversations that they are having. . . So I’m not really placed to know what they’re thinking or talking about.
“But the foundation of the Church of England is to say that we’re grounded in the holy scriptures and the catholic creeds and that, I trust, will be expressed in whatever final settlement.
“I think, at the same time, one of the things that we’ve learned through LLF is a deeper compassion to listen, and that needs to be part of proclaiming truth; we need to speak with love.”
In a statement issued on Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed Dr Munro’s nomination. He said: “I know that Rob is a committed pastor with a heart for mission and reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The Archbishop of York said: “Rob comes well equipped to his new task to support and encourage those parishes that look to him for pastoral care and support. As a Church we continue to work hard to flourish together.”
Bishop Mullally said: “I warmly welcome Rob’s appointment to this important role, and I’m particularly pleased that the announcement comes here in London, where his journey began.
“I would like to take the opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Bishop Rod Thomas for his support, our partnership, and our shared commitment to mutual flourishing, which I now look forward to building on that with Rob.”