Warnings of a clergy revolt given to Bishop of Southwark

A manifesto calling upon the Bishop of Southwark to govern his diocese in conformance with the Canons of the Church of England and Holy Scripture has been delivered this week to the Rt. Rev. Christopher Chessun.

A manifesto calling upon the Bishop of Southwark to govern his diocese in conformance with the Canons of the Church of England and Holy Scripture has been delivered this week to the Rt. Rev. Christopher Chessun.

Endorsed by approximately 60 priests (1 in 5 of the diocese’s stipendiary clergy) and 9 parish councils, the “Southwark Declaration” affirms the doctrinal principles of the Church of England and calls upon the bishop to ensure that the clergy he has appointed to high office conform to these teachings.

The declaration accompanies a private letter endorsed by 27 clergy that warns the bishop of unfortunate consequences for the diocese if he persists in his liberal-catholic partisanship.

Submitted for publication this week to the Church of England Newspaper and the Church Times, the declaration 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 (DDO), canon chancellor/Continuing Ministerial Education (CME) officer. In 2012 Evangelicals in the diocese formed the Southwark Ministry Trust, and began diverting parish funds from the diocese to support parish ministry costs.

The declaration states:

As clergy and lay people in the Diocese of Southwark:

We affirm the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and their supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. We affirm with Canon A5 that ‘the  doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.’’

We affirm, with Article XX, that ‘it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written.’

We affirm the teaching of Scripture (Genesis 2.24, Mark 10. 7, Matthew 19.5), the Book of Common Prayer, and Canon B30 (‘Of Holy Matrimony’) that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life. We affirm it is the one God-ordained context for sexual intercourse. We affirm resolution 1.10 on human sexuality of the Lambeth Conference (1998).

We call upon all the Bishops, Archdeacons, and the senior staff of the Diocese, alongside all clergy and licensed lay ministers, to affirm these truths, live by them, and to teach in accordance with them.

We call upon the Bishops to appoint to positions of teaching authority only those who hold to these truths in good conscience.

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, the Rev. Canon Giles Goddard, conducts services of dedication and thanksgiving for couples after their same-sex civil marriages are performed. The organizers 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 organizers told Anglican Ink. “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 a 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.”

Bishop Chessun’s policies have exacerbated the decline of the diocese, his critics charge. While the neighboring Diocese of London has grown in recent years, Southwark has shrunk. A November 2012 Strategy for Ministry report recommended the diocese eliminate 30 stipendiary clergy posts over five years, ten from each Episcopal area, reducing the total number of positions from 290 to 260. While Bishop Chessun has recented appointed a Canon for Fresh Expressions ministries to reach the unchurched, as of year’s end the diocese had only one Fresh Expressions ministry plant in place.

In response to a query from Anglican Ink, the Bishop’s Press Officer, the Rev. Canon Wendy Robins said: “’The Bishop of Southwark has received a copy of the Declaration.  He is 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.”

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