The Archbishop of York is the second most senior cleric in the Church of England and the appointment of Bishop Stephen Cottrell will clearly shape the future direction of the Church. It is therefore concerning to hear about the experience of some conservative clergy in his current diocese. At least four clergy have resigned their positions in recent months and others have spoken publicly of how they are used to being told they “don’t belong.”
Many point to his Presidential Address in March 2017, where, having reminded clergy that he was their Father in God and that they, and other licensed ministers, had made him an oath of canonical obedience, he explained his thinking on issues of human sexuality.
“At the moment”, he said, “there is no consensus in the Church of England for those relationships to be formally blessed in Church, or for the Church of England to embrace same-sex marriage, but the current arrangements do welcome lay people and clergy into civil partnerships and there is no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships – perhaps a Eucharist - cannot be offered.”
He went on, “Therefore, let me be loud and clear on this issue: whether you believe there should be same sex marriage or the blessing of same sex unions or whether you do not, you are still a faithful Anglican.”
One of the clergy who has resigned his licence is Rev John Parker. In a recent interview, he described how he, and others, sought to contend for a more biblical perspective, but ended up resigning because,
“To be faithful to the words of Jesus I cannot be in fellowship with those who twist and change the grace of God into a license to do whatever they want…”
His story can be read here.
Bishop Stephen has consistently denied claims that he has suggested conservative clergy are unwelcome, however, many clergy would disagree and some felt they needed to respond to the Bishop’s claims in a statement earlier this year.
“We noticed it was carefully worded,” said Kieran Bush, Vicar of St John’s, Walthamstow. “It gave the impression that the Bishop had never suggested that John Parker should leave the Church of England. The truth is that Stephen Cottrell has, on more than one occasion, told clergy, including John Parker, that if we disagree with the approach the Diocese is taking on matters of human sexuality we should follow our consciences and leave. There were more than thirty clergy at one of the meetings.”
On hearing about the appointment Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester and President of Gafcon UK, said, “We need to pray for the Church of England and for Bishop Stephen at this time because I am very concerned that someone who has openly argued and worked for a change in the Church’s teaching on human sexuality should have been nominated to such a senior position. I urge Bishop Stephen to publicly affirm the teaching of the Bible, the universal teaching of the Church, the Lambeth Conference Resolution 1:10 and the 1987 Resolution of General Synod on matters of sexuality. Without this, orthodox believers in the CofE will have to ask what place there is in this church for them”.
Gafcon UK calls on all faithful Anglicans to join them in the words of this week’s Collect.
“O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”