Sydney minister offers praise for Jonathan Fletcher

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A celebrated Australian preacher in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, who is ‘Senior Mentor’ to trainee ministers at its main theological college and preaches to 100,000 listeners a week through a radio show, has said he has ‘only been blessed’ by the ‘friendship and ministry’ of the serial abuser Rev Jonathan Fletcher.

Canon Simon Manchester, who in the 1980s was Fletcher’s successor as curate of St Helen’s Bishopsgate in the City of London, has had a joint letter with his wife published in the June edition of the British monthly journal, Evangelicals Now:

‘We have known Jonathan Fletcher for more than 40 years and only been blessed by his friendship and ministry. Of course it is painful for everyone when questions or accusations must be dealt with as good people are doing. May the Lord enable this process to be kept in proportion, look like it’s in proportion, and be marked by great humility. How good the Lord is to all of us – to protect and provide.’

Fletcher’s victims have described the effect of his abuses, which included beatings, cold baths and naked massages, on their mental health in the report into the scandal published in March by Christian safeguarding charity, Thirtyone:eight.

One survivor said: ‘As a result, I manifest unhealthy and debilitating responses, including shame, low self-worth, anxiety and depression. I am currently on anti-depressants and receiving psychotherapy which I hope will help restore my mental health.’

Another said: ‘These types of behaviour had a significant and detrimental effect on my emotional and psychological well-being, and I recall one beating which made me feel suicidal for some time afterwards.’

Canon Manchester was curate of St Helen’s Bishopsgate from 1982 to 1984 when the influential expository preacher, Prebendary Dick Lucas, was Rector. Canon Manchester has been a regular headline speaker at conferences laid on by the Proclamation Trust, the UK preacher training provider launched from St Helen’s in 1986.  Fletcher was a founding trustee of the PT and Prebendary Lucas was its first chairman.

Last year Sydney Diocese’s Moore Theological College appointed Canon Manchester, who retired as Rector of St Thomas’  North Sydney in December 2019, ‘Senior Mentor of the John Chapman Preaching Initiative’. The late John Chapman (1930-2012), who served as Sydney Diocese’s Director of Evangelism, was an Australian evangelist with an international ministry.

Announcing Canon Manchester’s appointment, Moore College said: ‘An important, defining period in his ministry development was in London, where he served as Curate at St Helen’s Bishopsgate from 1982–84 under Dick Lucas.Dick initiated a pioneering lunchtime Bible teaching programme to serve the City of London’s pin-striped community, in which Simon was also involved.’

Moore College said it was seeking to raise A$150,000 to fund Canon Manchester’s position for five years: ‘His outstanding preaching and pastoral ministry have impacted on thousands over the past 30 years. In particular, the radio program “Christian Growth with Simon Manchester” on radio station Hope 103.2, has seen his preaching appreciated by over 100,000 listeners each week across Australia and around the world.

‘By supporting this strategically significant new role, you will be helping to equip a new generation of preachers for future ministry.
‘We are seeking to raise $150,000 to establish this part-time role for 5 years.’

Simon Manchester was appointed a Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney in 2019. This was in ‘celebration of his outstanding contribution to the Diocese of Sydney and to the kingdom of God’, the former Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Glenn Davies, said.

Anglican Ink contacted Moore College for comment on the letter from Canon and Mrs Manchester in the light of the Fletcher victims’ testimony. But the college has yet to issue a statement.AI also contacted Evangelicals Nowwww.e-n.org.uk for an explanation of its decision to publish the letter. Its administrator, Rob Clarke, said the editor, who is Rev David Baker, would respond after he got back from holiday.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in the UK.