Bishop of Lincoln returned to duty after 20-month investigation

Christopher Lowson.jpg

We write as episcopal colleagues to the people of the Diocese to share news of the Bishop of Lincoln’s return to ministry and our shared sense of encouragement for the future.

1. What has happened?

On 12th January 2021 the Bishop of Lincoln had a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They met together to pray and discuss next steps following the conclusion of the clergy disciplinary process instigated after the Bishop’s suspension in May 2019, and subsequent investigation. That process resulted in a judgment by the President of Tribunals, Dame Sarah Asplin, following which the Bishop agreed to accept a rebuke in relation to his handling of an allegation made against a priest in the diocese. Bishop Christopher has offered an unreserved apology for the way in which he handled this matter.

Archbishop Justin expressed his full support for Bishop Christopher as he now begins the process of returning to ministry as Bishop of Lincoln.

In the press release issued today, the Archbishop said: “I am very sorry that Bishop Christopher and his wife Susan have had to endure such an ordeal over the last 20 months.

I have expressed my regret to Christopher and am very grateful to him for the gracious way he has responded. I want to make it clear that I am fully supportive of Christopher returning to ministry as the Bishop of Lincoln. We have both agreed that there are many lessons we and the Church need to learn from this very difficult season, as we also continue to learn lessons from the scrutiny of IICSA which highlighted our poor response to survivors.” He also added, “I look forward to visiting Lincoln, once the pandemic allows, to pray with Bishop Christopher and his colleagues”.

The statement continues to say that throughout this long process Bishop Christopher had sought to cooperate fully and was conscious of the importance of ensuring a thorough investigation for all involved. However, he stressed that the length of the process had not benefited anyone and hoped that some constructive reflection on this experience would help to improve the Church’s safeguarding and disciplinary procedures.

Bishop Christopher also said that he was enormously grateful to Bishop David Court, the Bishop of Grimsby, who has led the Diocese of Lincoln during his absence, and to those, particularly Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain, who have supported him. Bishop Christopher said that the churches, clergy and people of Lincolnshire have remained in his thoughts and prayers over the last 20 months and that he looks forward to returning to serve the Diocese as soon as practicable.

The Bishop of Grimsby said: “Both Bishop Nicholas and I would like to express our thanks and gratitude for the support and encouragement we have been given by so many in the diocese over the last twenty months.

“We continue to be absolutely committed to good safeguarding in the diocese and we now look forward to welcoming Bishop Christopher back and working again closely with him as we seek together to serve the people and church here in Greater Lincolnshire.”

2. What happens now and what does this mean for the leadership of the Diocese?

It is impossible to ignore the context of a global pandemic in which many people have died, and many people face challenging bereavement. The primary response is to pray that the departed should rest in peace and that the bereaved may be blessed by their memories of their departed loved ones; but more than that, Christians are called to hold fast to the hope of ‘the life of the world to come’ that God provides in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Placed in this stark context, the leadership of the Diocese of Lincoln may seem a secondary matter. However, Christians formed in the hope found in Jesus Christ might reflect that the historic county of Lincolnshire has known similar challenges in its long history, and that God is faithful and calls the Church to move forward together.

The Bishop of Lincoln has been living outside the Diocese during this time and as he actively resumes his role there will be a transitional period during which he will also be returning to his home in the diocese, living and working within the constraints of current government restrictions. The benefits of modern technology – with which everyone has had to become all the more familiar in recent months – mean he can be in close touch with the rest of diocesan leadership team with immediate effect.

The Bishop of Lincoln has been briefed on what has happened since he has been away, not least on the work done by the teams working on Resourcing Sustainable Church. Bishop Christopher is clear that returning to ministry after such an absence will mean leading the diocese in a different way. He said, “My vocation to serve God in the Diocese of Lincoln has been refreshed during this time and I hope to be able to affirm, bless and offer additional perspectives on the good work that has been and is happening. Absence also means I come with fresh eyes. Most of all, I am confident that God has given us new opportunities to dream and to hope.

To his colleagues in ministry Bishop Christopher is keen to offer thanks and encouragement. “I look forward” he said, “to being with you once again at the Chrism Eucharist as God renews us, lay and ordained, in our discipleship and ministries to serve God in the life of the world.”

For understandable reasons the Chrism Eucharist in 2021 is likely to take place sometime after Holy Week.

This letter is being shared with you on the eve of the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the day we remember Jesus being offered to God by his parents. As his life is offered, so we also offer our lives to the God who creates us, loves us and invites us to proclaim his Kingdom. We pray to God in the collect that ‘we may be presented to you’ – this is our prayer for ourselves, for each other, and for the whole Diocese of Lincoln – that together we find our identity and purpose in Christ. Such offering has its cost, we know, but we also know that God is generous, merciful and loving.

This is also the day on which we turn from Christmas towards Easter, from the crib towards the cross. We look forward to walking with you, and with our Lord, towards Jerusalem this year, and pray that, together, we will be renewed in faith, in confidence and in joyfulness.

May God continue to bless and guide the people and clergy of the Diocese of Lincoln.

+Christopher Lincoln: +David Grimsby: +Nicholas Grantham: