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Canon Jessica Martin to join Dr Woolford as a theology adviser to the Bishops

06 February 2024

Ely Cathedral

Canon Jessica Martin, whose special responsibility at Ely Cathedral is learning and outreach

Canon Jessica Martin, whose special responsibility at Ely Cathedral is learning and outreach

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have announced the appointment of the Revd Dr Jessica Martin, a Canon Residentiary of Ely Cathedral, as a second interim theology adviser to the House of Bishops.

The appointment was made after the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, said that he would continue as a co-chair of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process if, among other provisos, a second theology adviser was appointed. This second adviser should work alongside the existing adviser, the Revd Dr Tom Woolford, “so that there is a similar model of working together across difference”, Bishop Snow said (News, 2 February).

Bishop Snow made the request after the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, stood down as the other LLF co-chair over “serious concerns” about Dr Woolford’s appointment (News, 1 February).

Dr Woolford, Vicar of All Saints’, New Longton, and a tutor at Emmanuel Theological College, has described himself as “conservative on blessings and on sexuality”; but he has distanced himself from an article, published in 2019 on the website of the Church Society, in which he wrote that it would be “disastrous and desperately wicked if the Church were to prepare blessings for things we must not bless”.

Canon Martin has questioned both “progressive” and “conservative” theological stances on sexual ethics (Features, 17 July 2020). Her books include Holiness and Desire: What makes us who we are? (Canterbury Press) (Books, 7 August 2020).

The appointment of Canon Martin was announced on Monday. She will be on secondment for six months, starting in March. Besides advising the House of Bishops, she and Dr Woolford will act as secretaries to the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC).

A recruitment process is under way to find a permanent sucessor to Prebendary Isabelle Hamley as Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops. Prebendary Hamley has been appointed Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge (News, 1 December 2023).

The Archbishops said in a statement: “In the last week, there has been a lot of public commentary about the appointment of the Interim Theology Adviser to the House of Bishops. This has required care to resolve, not just for individuals involved or affected by this appointment, but for the wider LLF process. We are grateful to Jessica and to Tom for their willingness to work together as interim Joint Theology Advisers.

“We remain concerned about the negative tone of debate in some parts of the Church, especially on social media. We must all do our utmost to disagree in a manner which shows the love of Jesus Christ to every person we encounter, especially those with whom we disagree. We are confident that Tom and Jessica will model this in their new roles and support the bishops in our work.”

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, who chairs the FAOC, said: “The Faith and Order Commission is an important resource for the national Church, representing a diversity of theological opinion and learning.

“I am confident that the Commission will be well served by our two new Interim Advisers. They are fine theologians, and I am personally looking forward very much to working with them.”

Canon Martin said: “It is a great pleasure to fulfil this interim role, working alongside Dr Woolford in the service of the whole Church, and modelling a mutual charity within difference in the advice he and I offer together to support the bishops and FAOC.”

Dr Woolford said that he welcomed Dr Martin’s appointment, and that he understood “the vital importance of ensuring that trust in the LLF process is maintained”. He continued: “I intend and anticipate that we will both individually, as well as together, strive to provide advice in a neutral manner, and I look forward to our working together in support of the bishops and FAOC.”

Last week, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Philip North, who chairs the board of trustees of Emmanuel Theological College, and the college’s Dean and chief executive, Canon Michael Leyden, published a statement on the college’s website defending Dr Woolford.

The statement described Dr Woolford, who is a tutor and lecturer in sacramental and systematic theology, as having served the college “with distinction for three years”.

It continued: “Tom is well loved and respected by staff and students alike, and we are proud that he brings his gifts as a theologian and communicator as well as the distinctiveness of his own theological commitments to our diverse team. He has been consistently measured, respectful of the range of views within our community, and encouraging of those with whom he disagrees, and we are certain that he’ll operate with the same generous posture in all he does for the national Church.”

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