Southwark clergy rebuke ‘partisan’ bishop

ONE IN 10 of the Diocese of Southwark’s stipendiary clergy have signed a private letter to their bishop, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, rebuking him for his partisan management of the diocese. Delivered last week, the letter is understood to take issue with the bishop’s preference of clergy living in same-sex civil partnerships to senior posts within the diocese, while marginalising traditionalists. The letter, accompanied a public statement endorsed by 60 priests and nine parish councils, affirms the doctrinal principles of the Church of England, which also urged the bishop to ensure that clergy he has appointed to high office conform to these teachings.

The “Southwark Declaration” and private letter comes amidst a sharp financial contraction and declining church attendance in Southwark, coupled with the appointment of clergy living in same-sex civil partnerships to the posts of cathedral dean, diocesan director of ordinands and canon chancellor. Complaints of bias in Southwark prompted evangelicals in 2012 to form the Southwark Ministry Trust to divert parish funds from the diocese to an organisation that would support parish ministry costs. While Bishop Chessun has recently appointed a Canon for Fresh Expressions ministries to reach the unchurched, as of year’s end the diocese had only one plant. The decline in income and attendance led a November 2012 diocesan task force to call for the elimination of one in 10 of the diocese’s stipendiary clergy positions.

The Strategy for Ministry report recommended the diocese eliminate 30 stipendiary clergy posts over five years, 10 from each Episcopal area, reducing the total number of positions from 290 to 260. In the cover letter soliciting signatures for the declaration, the authors stated that in November 2014 “five of us” met with Bishop Chessun to “to share with him our concerns” including the appointment of a new Canon Chancellor, who announced to the second year curates in October that she was in a same-sex partnership with another woman; and the “developments at St John’s, Waterloo” where the priest-in-charge allegedly conducts services of dedication and thanksgiving for couples after their same-sex civil marriages are performed.

The organisers hoped the declaration “will make the Bishop listen in a way that nothing hitherto seems to have done.” The Southwark Declaration is “designed to be a positive statement about what we believe the Bible and the Church clearly teach about marriage,” the organisers told The Church of England Newspaper.  “Over the last few years, a number of us have spent a lot of time trying to persuade Bishop Christopher to act in a godly way as a Bishop – right from a warm welcoming meeting to him as soon as he was consecrated. We have also had three or four open face-to-face meetings where we have been very frank with him, including one in Holy Week 2012 with 120 clergy and laity following the appointment of the Bishop of Croydon. And also a number of letters back and forth. None of this has made any difference.” The Bishop’s Press Officer, the Rev Canon Wendy Robins confirmed Bishop Chessun had received the Southwark Declaration and was “grateful for the contribution that conservative evangelicals make to the life of the Diocese. “As you may be aware there is an opportunity for the whole of the Church of England to discuss these issues through the Shared Conversations and the Bishop of Southwark welcomes this.”