Monday, 21 September 2009

The next Bishop of Chelmsford: your views welcome (sort of)

In July 1859, John Henry Newman published an article in The Rambler, a Catholic journal of that era, titled, ‘On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine’. This was something which apparently the bishops of the time were loath to do, and it landed Newman in considerable hot water.
I am beginning to think, however, that someone should write a similar piece on consulting the clergy in matters of replacing the Bishop of Chelmsford, for again there seems to have been some reluctance about this.
It gives me no pleasure to say so, but I am one of those who found the time under Bishop John Gladwin’s leadership ‘challenging’, particularly with regard to his position on human sexuality. With several others I had a number of face-to-face meetings with the bishop, where concerns were expressed and some sort of compromise sought, but to no avail. Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, of which I was a founding member, has also given a great deal of its time and energy to these issues.
As the time for Bishop Gladwin’s retirement approached, however, there was a perceptible lessening of tension with the hope that better times might be ahead, and one of my personal intentions was to take an active interest in the appointment consultations, just as I had when Bp John Perry retired.
Imagine my shock, then, to discover that the public consultation has been and gone (on September 9th), and that the deadline for writing to the Archbishops’ and Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretaries was today (September 21st).
I am still asking myself how this happened. There was an article about the meeting in the Chelmsford Weekly News, and I am told that there were advertisements in the church press. Some clergy were ‘in the loop’, as were some of the deanery lay chairs.The diocesan newspaper for October contains a short article saying that the consultation process is ‘under way’, and refers readers to the diocesan website for more details. And there is a link at the bottom of the current diocesan website which takes you to a page about the public consultation and the letters deadline. There is also an item on the current ‘news’ page of the website which speaks about the consultation. However, this is dated 5th September, just four days before the event, so not much notice was given there. Once again, this takes you to the same page about the publication consultation as the previous link.
However, the consultation was not mentioned in the diocesan e-bulletins for June, July, August or September. Personally, I found out about it from a clergy friend who phoned me this morning. To my knowledge (and no one I’ve have spoken to so far has cast any doubt on this) the clergy were neither specifically told about the meeting, nor asked for their opinion. And yet the facilities to do so clearly exist. Just a few weeks ago, we all received an ad clerum by e-mail from the Bishop’s chaplain warning us of the dangers of swine ’flu. Why, then, was a similar e-mail not sent about the appointment consultation?
Of course, some might say, “Everyone ought to have known. It was on the diocesan website calendar, and the website itself.” Maybe, but I cannot help contrasting this with the requirements to consult which are laid on PCCs considering passing ‘Resolution C’. These go far beyond what the ‘letter of the law’ (the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993) requires, and expect a deliberate seeking of the opinions not only of church members but of the non-churchgoing local community. There is a clear indication that a dim view would be taken of things if the PCC simply replied, “It was on the notice sheet.”
In fact, the views of some clergy were specifically sought, but in what seems to be a not-terribly-well-organized way. One correspondent has already replied to me as follows:
On 9th Sept [the day of the ‘public consultation’] I received a ’phone call from the Diocesan Office inviting me in for a ‘consultation’ that afternoon (about 4 hours’ notice). I thought maybe I'd been asked to represent a certain constituency or something, but when I got there it turned out that Paul Britton [the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary] and Caroline Biddington [sic, the Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary] were seeing clergy in random pairs.
He continued,
The questions Mr Britton asked were very simply “What do you think are the needs of the Diocese?” and “What kind of bishop do you thin[k] it needs?”. [...] I asked Mr Britton how many of these interviews they were conducting (between them) and the answer was about 70.”
So someone knew how to get hold of clergy —albeit at short notice. I would observe, however, that those consulted did not, for some reason, include the honorary assistant bishop, the Rt Revd John Ball.
Anyway, I have sent an e-mail to the Archbishops’ Secretary and hope it will do some good. If you want to try a last-ditch approach, her e-mail is You may also like to contact Revd John Dunnett of CPAS, who is on the Crown Nominations Commission. His e-mail address is
Revd John P Richardson
21 September 2009

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  1. Has the thought crossed your mind that you are being filmed for an episode of a new series of 'Yes, Prime Minister', but no one has told you?

  2. You mean they didn't come round and ask you who the next bishop should be? I'm amazed, and try as I might I can't think why they didn't. It's baffling, isn't it?
    Frank. Merseyside.

  3. I have today (2nd October) received the Diocesan October E-Bulletin with the news that there's a meeting Wednesday 9 September and that the consultation has been extended to 30th September. Happily as a result of this blog I was able to comment on 29th September.

    David Brock