Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Growing concern over appointment of Bishop of Chelmsford

Concern is being expressed in a number of quarters over the process for the appointment of the next Bishop of Chelmsford, and especially over the lack of consultation with the clergy.
Bishop John Gladwin’s time in office was dogged by a number of controversies, caused by his stance on homosexuality and his patronage of the pressure group Changing Attitude. At one point, several clergy in the diocese expressed themselves as being ‘out of sacramental fellowship’ with the Bishop. In 2006, a diocesan trip to Kenya was threatened when news of the Bishop’s views was picked up by the Kenyan press. And in 2007 a candidate’s ordination was delayed because he felt that he could not receive communion with the Bishop.
Perhaps for these reasons, Chelmsford is also notable for being one of the few dioceses with its own Anglican Mainstream group.
In the last few months, however, there has been a sense of easing of the tensions as Bishop Gladwin’s retirement approached and thoughts turned to his successor. The Anglican Mainstream group, in particular, were looking forward to making their views known regarding the importance of having someone who would restore their confidence in the diocesan leadership.
It is with considerable dismay, therefore, that many amongst both the clergy and laity are discovering that the public consultation and the deadline for writing to the Appointments Secretaries have been and gone, and that the ‘profile’ of the new Bishop is already well-advanced.
It now seems that the timetable for the appointment process was brought forward, although it is not clear why this was the case. Certainly until recently the official position was that Chelmsford was in a long ‘queue’ for the attention of the Crown Nominations Commission.
Some notice of the public consultation, which actually took place on the 9th September, was put out in advance. The Diocesan website carried a news item about it, dated 5th September, and a local paper, the Chelmsford Weekly News, carried a similar item on the 7th September —just two days ahead of the meeting. Despite some claims to the contrary, however, there was nothing in the Church of England Newspaper throughout August or early September to advertise this consultation, which perhaps means that only Church Times readers had this opportunity to be informed. Nor is there any direct mention of it in the diocesan E-Bulletins for July, August or September. Yet in early July diocesan clergy received an ad clerum via e-mail about the dangers of Swine ’flu, demonstrating that a simple mechanism to inform them about this and other issues is in place.
Some clergy were called in to meet with the Appointments Secretaries, but this seems to have arranged in some haste. One correspondent reports receiving a phone call at just four hours notice, whilst another reports that the clergy chair of his Deanery Synod was similarly contacted at the last minute. By contrast, the Rt Revd John Ball, an honorary bishop in the diocese, was not consulted for his views at all! Similar ignorance and lack of opportunity seems to prevail amongst the laity.
To make matters worse, a clergyman who knows a member of the Vacancy in See Committee reports from them that the profile of the person they want has been drawn up already, and that the express purpose of inviting correspondence with the Appointments Secretaries is “to see whether the profile corresponds to what folks are saying”.
Urgent efforts are currently being made both to express disquiet at what has happened and to voice the desire for a Bishop who will rectify the problems the diocese has experienced over the past few years. As things stand, however, this must be seen as a real test of the appointments process. The time for meeting in ‘holy smoke’-filled rooms is surely past. People have come to expect transparency and for their views to be heard. At the same time, they naturally resent the impression that vital decision which will deeply affect them are being made by a select few.
Any parish which has gone through the process of finding a new minister will know just how thorough consultation needs to be, and how much it must be ‘owned’ by those who will be affected. Why should this not, then, apply to the selection of a new bishop, whose clergy are expected to regard him as their ‘chief pastor’? Not least, this is important for the next Bishop himself. It will hardly give him the best start in his ministry if he meets a situation where there is resentment about how he was appointed, even if there is gratitude that he seems to be the right man for the job.
Since before the production of the Perry report, there has been a clear sense of a need for change in the process of appointing bishops. Sadly, the current experience in Chelmsford seems to underline that need.
Revd John P Richardson
22 September 2009

No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the policy.

1 comment:

Simon Heron said...

At our local clergy chapter meeting today, our rural dean told us that he had been invited to a meeting with Appointments Secretaries in October in connection with the replacement of Michael Nazir-Ali. Looks like the process here will involve a long and wide consultation.