A trustee of the ReNew Conference for Anglican conservative evangelicals in the UK has told Anglican Ink that the network’s chairman, Rev William Taylor, is planning to step down in 2023.
Last year the network conducted a ‘governance review’ where a maximum of two five-year terms was set for the ReNew chairman. The regional leaders of ReNew then elected Rev Taylor for a new five-year term in June 2020.
Brain O’Donaghue said: ‘It was agreed as part of the governance review that a Chairman would be elected for 5 years. However, William recognised that he started serving as Chairman back in 2013. As such William has no desire to go beyond the spirit of the governance arrangements, and so would not look to serve for more than ten years as Chairman of ReNew.’
The ReNew leadership has responded to questions from Anglican Ink about the movement’s governance and accountability. The interview with a spokesman is published below with a commentary following.
The news comes after the ReNew trustees and conference planning team last week announced a ‘reflection exercise’ on the Thirtyone:eight report into the Jonathan Fletcher abuse scandal.
According to a statement posted on the ReNew website:
‘Thirtyone:eight made a series of important recommendations, which we have committed to reflect humbly and prayerfully upon. We have been working with Christian Safeguarding Services on the process of our reflection, and they will also comment on our findings. On 27th April we wrote to every ReNew Church leader to invite them and members of their leadership teams to contribute to our reflections.’
The statement links to a feedback form on which members of the network, which has 50 Anglican churches signed up to its agenda, can offer comments under the numbered recommendations in the Thirtyone:eight report.
‘We aim to complete the exercise by mid-June 2021, ahead of an open discussion at the upcoming meeting of Regional Leaders on 29/30 June,’ ReNew announced.
The Thirtyone:eight review, which was commissioned by Emmanuel Church Wimbledon where Fletcher was vicar from 1982 to 2012, highlighted a culture of fear and secrecy in the British conservative evangelical scene in which the serial abuser was such a dominant figure.
ReNew, which is registered with the Charity Commission, launched in 2013 as a partnership between Reform, of which Fletcher was a trustee and Church Society – both Church of England conservative evangelical groups – and the Anglican Mission in England outside the CofE’s structures. In 2018 Reform and Church Society merged.
Since 2013 Rev William Taylor has been the chairman of ReNew. He is Church of England Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, the City of London church where Fletcher was curate in the late 1970s. Fletcher and Rev Taylor became associated through the Iwerne evangelical camps for pupils from the ‘top 30’ English boarding schools. Fletcher and the savage serial abuser John Smyth groomed victims on these camps.
Interview with ReNew spokesman:
1). I understand Rev William Taylor was given a new five-year term as chairman by the leaders of the regional groups from last summer. Was there a formal vote on this and were they any dissentients?
· In April 2020 ReNew’s Trustees conducted a governance review, which included receiving external advice and also circulating the proposed governance outline to ReNew’s Regional Leaders to ensure openness and transparency. The review agreed terms for Trustees, Chairman, Planning Team, and Regional Leaders and a new process for election of the Chairman of the Planning Team.
· Regional Leaders were invited to nominate candidates to stand for election as Chairman of ReNew. William Taylor was the only candidate nominated by Regional Leaders and was thereby duly elected. The Independent Observers who oversaw the nomination and election process, commented on Friday 26th June 2020:
“It’s great to witness ReNew’s development and growth as an authentic and purposeful Anglican evangelical network in England. It’s heartening to see that ReNew includes reviewing and renewing structures and processes for the sake of good governance, accountability and the healthy leadership of the movement for years to come.” Rt Revd Rod Thomas (Bishop of Maidstone) and Tim Davies (Minister of Christ Church Central Sheffield and AMiE Trustee).
William Taylor – who is currently aged 59 – recognises that he is mid-way through serving his second term, the maximum allowed under ReNew’s new governance arrangementsl
· The Trustees will continue to review accountability, governance, and support of those in leadership positions regularly.
2. Are there any plans to give every ReNew conference delegate a vote in the election of the chairman?
· Under the new governance arrangements, Regional Leaders are chosen by ReNew Church Leaders in each region. ReNew’s Regional Leaders vote for the Chairman of ReNew’s Planning Team.
3. Are there plans to give ReNew regional members a vote in the election of regional leaders?
· Each Regional Group of ReNew Church leaders decided how best to recognise their Regional Leaders – some did so by election and others did so by affirmation.
4. What is Rev Taylor’s view of his own position as ReNew chairman in the light of the 31:8 Fletcher report recommendation that those who have exercised influence in the leadership of the CofE conservative evangelical constituency should step aside?
· Which recommendation from the thirtyone:eight Review does this refer to? (Please see the commentary below).
· Following thirtyone:eight’s Review into Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church Wimbledon, the ReNew Planning Team and Trustees have been closely considering the Review’s findings and learnings for the future. We are all profoundly grieved at the suffering of those so badly affected by Jonathan Fletcher, and we pray for them, their families, and their friends.
In answer to question 1). the spokesman identifies the ‘independent observers’ in the June 2020 election for ReNew chairman as the Rt Rev Rod Thomas and Canon Tim Davies. Both of these ministers have been prominent leaders in ReNew since its launch. The response raises the question: why did ReNew not choose observers from outside its network to oversee Rev Taylor’s appointment?
I asked ReNew: if Rev Taylor is now mid-way through his second five-year term, when did it begin? In June 2020 or was the start back-dated to 2018?
ReNew trustee, Brian 0’Donaghue, told me: ‘It was agreed as part of the governance review that a Chairman would be elected for 5 years. However, William recognised that he started serving as Chairman back in 2013. As such William has no desire to go beyond the spirit of the governance arrangements, and so would not look to serve for more than ten years as Chairman of ReNew.’
So, under that arrangement, Rev Taylor would step down as chairman in 2023.
Under question 4). the spokesman asks which recommendation in the Thirtyone:eight review calls for resignations in the wider conservative evangelical constituency.
The review into Fletcher’s abuses, which the Christian safeguarding charity published in March, made 66 recommendations under 18 themes. Under Theme 2, ‘Healthy Leadership, Governance and Accountability,’ the report said ‘aspects of unhealthy culture’ across the conservative evangelical constituency ‘might only be addressed fully by those having played a key role in the establishment and maintenance of that culture to no longer enjoy the influence they have had to date (i.e. considering their positions and stepping down)’.
The review does not demand that such key influencers should resign as pastors of their churches or in Rod Thomas’s case as a suffragan bishop. But it does suggest that such leaders, whom it does not name, should consider resigning their positions of influence in the wider constituency. Two have already resigned from a conservative evangelical parachurch organisation.
In the wake of the Thirtyone:eight report, Rev Robin Weekes resigned from the Church Society’s council and Canon Vaughan Roberts from its board of reference.
Rev Weekes, minister of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon, and Canon Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford, were two of four conservative evangelical leaders who signed a letter to ReNew regional leaders in April 2019. The letter told them that Fletcher had lost his Permission to Officiate in 2017 and warned them not to invite him to preach at their churches. “We are deeply saddened at having to write in these terms, where Jonathan has had a very significant ministry over the years and continues to be held in great affection by many,” the four leaders wrote.
The other two signatories were Bishop Thomas and Rev Taylor.
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in the UK.