Monday, 21 June 2010

Southwark and the coming Anglican crisis

In a sermon preached at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday 13th June, Dean Colin Slee described recent reactions to the visit there of the Presiding Bishop of TEC, the Rt Revd Katharine Jefferts-Schori, as a “kerfuffle”. And indeed ‘mitregate’ — so-called because Ms Jefferts-Schori carried her mitre down the aisle rather than wore it on her head — has certain ‘kerfuffley’ elements, not to say an air of petulance on one side or the other (or maybe both).
The problem with ‘kerfuffle, however, is that it can distract from serious issues, and in this case it is the Dean’s evening sermon, rather than the Presiding Bishop’s celebrations in the morning, that really matters in the whole affair.
The sermon begins with the background to the Presiding Bishop’s visit (and a little dig at the those who have since objected), in which the Dean points out, quite rightly, that this was arranged some time before the events surrounding the consecration of Mary Glasspool. Interestingly, he even says of the Archbishop of Canterbury, “I have kept him informed at all times, I would not act without courtesy [ie towards him], nor he towards us” — though these last words are somewhat at variance with the recorded reactions of the Presiding Bishop.
We also get an insight into the Dean’s own sermon preparation:
I have to tell you that I had intended to ignore all this kerfuffle this afternoon, until ... I read the lessons and the Collect set for the day and used by the Presiding Bishop at this morning’s Eucharist.
So not much advance planning there! But we must be grateful for the Dean’s change of heart, given the revealing nature of his subsequent comments.
The collect, with its focus on love, allowed the Dean to justify the invitation to the Presiding Bishop as an expression of love, but also as her due as “our sister in Christ”.
It is with the lesson from Genesis 13, however (what the Dean calls “the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures”), that we come to the heart of the matter, for Dean Slee sees in the account of Abram and Lot a parallel to what is happening in the Anglican church. “Disaffected Anglicans,” he declares, “have been threatening to ‘walk separate ways’ for many months.” Thus he goes on,
Abram and Lot travel together and their herdsmen bicker and fight, in modern translation there is ‘strife’ between them. They reach agreement to take separate paths and settle down and so their mutual belonging as members of one family is secured.
Thus he concludes (via a brief discursus on Sodom), in a similar way, “It may be that some Anglicans will decide to walk a separate path.”
Now, notwithstanding questions of exegesis, we should pay close attention to what the Dean is saying. For although his preparation may have been a bit ‘last minute’, we need have no doubt that his sermon reflects a carefully considered position.
The first thing to notice is the open recognition of the possibility of separation in the Anglican communion. Though Dean Slee does not specify who are the “disaffected” (perhaps he applies this to both ‘sides’), he acknowledges the threat that they will indeed “walk separate ways”.
In his application of Genesis 13, however, he seems to suggest this would be a good thing, for the agreement between Abram and Lot is presented as a way in which “their mutual belonging as members of one family is secured.” The reasoning would seem to be that by walking separate ways, the ‘disaffected’ members of the Anglican communion could similarly ensure an end to their own comparable ‘strife’, whilst remaining ‘family’. To recognize the possibility of separation, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has done, is one thing. Virtually to advocate it is another.
This, however, brings us to the most significant statement of all, for having acknowledged that threats of separation may turn into reality, and having indicated that this might be not only necessary but helpful, the Dean states quite clearly his own conviction:
I believe the Chapter and congregation of this church will walk the same path as the Episcopal Church of America, the links are deep in our history, especially here.
Thus, according to the Dean, the Chapter and congregation of Southwark Cathedral are ready, when the time comes, to separate from others in the Anglican Communion, and to do so in line with TEC.
And here we come to the crisis.
The Diocese of Southwark is currently without a bishop. When that bishop is chosen, however, he will either have to align himself with the public position of his Dean (which the Dean claims is the position of the cathedral Chapter and congregation), or align himself against it.
It should also be remembered that, although it is a mere formality, the Chapter of a cathedral is still required by congĂ© d’elire to ‘elect’ the bishop chosen by the Crown, so that, at least on paper, the bishop has the Chapter’s ‘approval’. Thus if the bishop decides against his cathedral Chapter, there will be a difficult conflict for him at the top of the diocese. If the bishop decides for his Chapter, however, the situation within the diocese may become impossible, for there are others in Southwark who would undoubtedly find the ministry of a bishop committed to the position put forward by Dean Slee simply unacceptable — not least, one presumes, those who put their names to a recent letter criticizing the visit of TEC’s Presiding Bishop.
Something close to open warfare between either the bishop and the Chapter, or the bishop and sections of the diocese thus seems inevitable.
Yet what if the incoming bishop, by some diplomatic ingenuity, manages to put off the immediate confrontation? Even then we must remember that Dean Slee cannot be acting alone — indeed, he says he is not. On the contrary, he is confident of the support of his Chapter and the cathedral congregation, and undoubtedly he can also be sure of support from many of the Southwark clergy. But if my own experience is anything to go by, Dean Slee will also be networking (whether formally or informally) with others around the country. If he feels confident to say what he has done, and explicitly to align his cathedral with TEC as he has chosen to, we may wonder how many others are in the same position.
Indeed, we may actually be at the ‘tipping point’ where numbers of senior clergy, who can call upon a considerable degree of support, are similarly ready to declare their hand and to call the institutional bluff.
Dean Slee must know (or at least now be reflecting) that what he has said throws down something of a gauntlet to the Crown Nominations Commission. Either they chose someone who will conflict with his own cathedral, or they pick someone who will not — either because he is willing to compromise and allow the Dean’s pronouncements to go unchallenged, or because he himself is in agreement with the Dean’s own views.
If they choose conflict, the Dean undoubtedly has many allies, and who can tell how such a scenario would unfold? If they choose compromise, they will only buy a temporary peace and in any case will alienate others in the same diocese and elsewhere.
We continue to live in interesting times.
John Richardson
21 June 2010
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  1. An interesting post. It highlights the difference in position held by some in the Church, which could effectively lead to similar problems as in the US.

    I just wonder where does it leave the average church member or congregation who just want to get on with being in their community reaching out in mission and hope.

    We all want unity and consensus, but we seem to leave the Gospel behind when we discuss these things.

  2. Cracking piece John - this is the elephant in the room across the Church of England where you have two irreconciliable religions in one institution. What would you do in relation to the Dean of your cathedral if you were appointed Bishop of Southwark?

    Hope you had a good 60th.

    Kind regards,


  3. James in Belgium21 June 2010 at 19:31

    An excellent piece about a very troubling topic.

    I hope the Anglicans of Southwark know some specifics about TEC and that even if they wish to "walk apart," they do not do so together with TEC -
    - A very solid case can be made that the PB of TEC denies the divinity of Christ and the resurrection: About Jefferts-Schori's Christology
    - Association with TEC is likely to engender fundamentalism in the UK, and in world Christianity: fundamentalism problem
    - In all likelihood, Jefferts-Schori was in some way party to manipulation of her own election - cv padding - which many knew about, but has still not been investigated or clarified - so TEC has a very bad track record regarding transparency and democratic process

  4. What does Suffragan Bishop Nick Baines have to say about this?

    Tim Martens

  5. Gosh, it's all very Starbridge isn't it? Susan Howatch would have a field day. If only we had a Fr Jon Darrow to heal all the wounds.

  6. I believe the Chapter and congregation of this church will walk the same path as the Episcopal Church of America, the links are deep in our history, especially here.

    Do you really, really, think that Slee, the chapter & the congregation are going to "walk away" from their salaries, pension scheme, and the building, and start meeting in a local hall somewhere as a congregation of "TEC in Europe"?

    Of course not. But given the legal status of the CoE that's their choice.
    They can leave the keys and become Methodists any time they want.

    Right now, today, the ABC & CoE are effectively "in communion" with ACNA, AMiA etc etc. Clergy from ACNA can come to the UK, fill in the forms, preach, preside, etc etc etc. But because ACNA is not recognised as a province in good standing, ACNA doesn't have representatives in the formal structures of the communion.

    If TEC is thrown out - or asked to stand down, or walk apart - from those formal structures, there is nothing that will stop the likes of Slee maintaining his links with TEC, inviting TEC bishops over etc etc just as there is nothing preventing CoE churches inviting Bob Duncan or Martyn Minns or anyone else. Arguably, this is messy but a good thing. An Anglican compromise.

    This is - of course - a key reason why the ABC has made very clear TEC is being throw out for reasons to do with church order rather than theology. Most of the Global South thinks that everyone - evangelical or not - in Southwark is by definition not a Christian given all the gay ordinations, gay weddings that go on, not to mention the gay pensions that the church is paying. No question about that. But - well, we're Anglicans. We don't talk about theology.

    The Diocese statement of needs makes clear that there are lots of Gay clergy in Southwark (just like in London over the river). It also makes clear there are lots of non-gay clergy, lots of open evangelicals at least, and the main job of the bishop is to keep everyone together. Vis Tom Butler, who was supported by the *evangelicals* in his diocese against the Co-Mission / FCA.

    Slee might stir the pot a little but split the diocese - or actually resign - yeah right.

    And if he did, the CNCs can just appoint a broad church Bishop and another lefty Dean, and the status quo will reassert itself.

    James Noble

  7. I'm just fascinated by the Abram/Lot comparison. Will Colin Slee claim the Abram or the Lot position? Sadly, Lot didn't survive too long as an independent entity - it was all to do with the place he lived in and the company he kept. Furthermore, it was Abram who had to rescue him from the captivity he found himself in by means of a daring raid, and Lot's family only survive (after their mother's chloridisation) as a result of the unsavoury events of Genesis 19.
    I can see all these parallels being worked out over the next few years as the English church divides in the way that ECUSA has done. However, I really can't see the liberals coming out as Abram, much better that they accept their Lot.

  8. The Church of England is now being dragged deeper and deeper into the political unpleasantness that has so bedevilled the US. To think that some naively think that the church is supposed to preach the Gospel as given us in God's Word!

  9. Richard, shouldn't that be "sodium chloridisation"...?

  10. Is Colin Slee the most unpopular man in Southwark? He appears to have a number of battles on his hands, not the least of which has brought him into direct conflict with his own congregation. He is threatening to demolish an old church (All Hallows on Copperfield Street in Borough SE1) to make way for a private flats' development that is being opposed by hundreds of local people as it threatens to take away their light and destroy their quality of life. The development - which Colin Slee has publicly admitted will not see a return on investment for 25 years -- is being built in the heart of a conservation area. He also appears intent on destroying the adjoining community garden and removing it from community management which it has been in for over 40 years. The fact that he refuses to guarantee continued public access in writing suggests he intends to close the garden off for private use. More information on his community track record at

  11. Dominic, I'm sure you're right, but even the great breadth and subtle nuances of the English Language can't provide a single word for 'being turned into a pillar of salt'.

  12. Salsucolumnization?

    Steve Walton