Thursday, 1 October 2015

"Good Lord, deliver us from successful bishops"


The sermon preached by the Bishop of Chelmsford at the consecration of three new suffragan bishops in St Paul’s Cathedral on 29 September has received some attention in the media. The official press release about it is here.

Ruth Gledhill has written a news article about it in Christianity Today which is titled ‘Good Lord, deliver us from successful bishops’: A call for authentic church leadership.


The full text is available here.

The key passage reads:

So – a new line for the litany - Good Lord deliver us from successful bishops, from too well prepared or even too well organised bishops, from ready answer in the back pocket and PowerPoint strategy self-sufficient, all efficient bishops. Take us to those high places, places of perspective and reality, where we and all our schemes are set on fire, which, paradoxically for us, are also those places where life is raw, and pain and darkness requisite. Take us to the heights of prayer, to the depths of the scriptures, to the bottom step before the altar, to a places of silent waiting where, with mitres off and staffs laid down, we will be replenished and know our need of God, and there be renewed and strengthened for the things that lie ahead as bishops of God’s church – messengers, sentinels and pastors.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has published this letter, responding to some of the comments made about his sermon.

My sermon at the recent consecration of three new bishops at St Paul’s Cathedral has caused a bit of a stir.
Some have said that it was a riposte or rebuke to certain initiatives taking place in the Church of England around leadership development. This was never meant to be the case.
The intention of the sermon was to reconfirm the perspective of all our initiatives and all our plans and remind us of the calling of the bishop as messenger, sentinel and pastor, and at the same time enable us to smile at ourselves…

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Categorised as: Church of England

That's one in the eye for the Green Report, "the talent pool" and managerial-style bishops! I get a sense that this brilliant oration was delivered by the next Ebor?

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 8:26am BST

Wonderful sermon. Cheered me up no end when I needed it most.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 10:20am BST

"he Bishop of Maidstone was appointed in 2015 to have a national role in encouraging and helping those local churches which want to be active in the Church of England, but whose understanding of the Bible leads them to conclude that men and women should have ‘complementary’ rather than identical ministries in the Church" - Bp.of Maidstone web-site.

Is the latter part of this statement the official doctrine of the Church of England? Or, is the new Bishop of Maidstone a 'new breed' of bishop, not unlike the women bishops he seems to disown?

If this is the case, then it behoves women bishops to disown this 'other breed' of bishop in the Church of England.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 11:01am BST

Super sermon - cheered me up too and gave me hope.

Posted by: Revd Jean Mayland on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:02pm BST

There are heart-warming (to my mind) photographs on the Bishop of London's website Agree about the sermon. I thought the question in the sermon, 'Are we just going to be a church for those gathered in; or once again a church for all the world?' was helpful.

Posted by: Julia Redfern on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:10pm BST

Dare I ask if the Bishop of London was present in his cathedral church and, if so, whether or not he took part in the laying on of hands. My understanding is that he did not participate in the laying on of hands when the Bishop of Gloucester was consecrated but did take part in the recent consecration of three bishops in Canterbury cathedral when + Gloucester also participated in the laying on of hands upon two out of the three embryonic bishops.
It seems to me that our Anglican consecrations are becoming rather farcical - rather like the Hokey-Cokey! Depending on who is being consecrated and by whom "You put your right arm in, your right arm out, in, out, in, out and shake it all about.... That's what it's all about, SEE!"

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:31pm BST

Oh please not another thread discussing who laid hands on whom!

As the Bishop himself said: ... I think I would say that for our culture at this
particular time, it is that in Christ you can become yourself. You can be set free from the
snares and temptations of a world that tells you you aren’t good enough, good looking
enough, thin enough, clever enough, young enough, and find a new identity and become
completely yourself as you are meant to be in the communion with God that the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ makes possible. As teacher and evangelist this is the first job of
the bishop.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 2:01pm BST

In London all eyes will now be on the new Bishop of Edmonton. Will he attempt to discipline Fr Andrew Foreshow-Cain for converting his civil partnership into a marriage?

If he does there will be an insurrection amongst the clergy in the diocese. If he doesn't it will be a de facto green light in the Southern Province to give the lie to the current nonsense of pretending that civil partnerships are all right because they are arrangements for celibacy but marriages are conversely not.

I hope that this is to be an 'unsuccessful' bishop.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 2:59pm BST

Superb sermon by Bishop Stephen about the heart of gospel ministry.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 4:38pm BST

Concerned Anglican,
Andrew Foreshew-Cain was given a formal reprimand some weeks after his marriage. That was one of the options that were also open to Bishop Inwood when he disciplined Jeremy Pemberton.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 4:41pm BST


Was a formal reprimand also an option available to the Archbishop of York when he decided to deprive Jeremy Timm of his permission to officiate as a Lay Reader?

Incidentally, I hear that Jeremy and his partner have now become legally married. I have not seen anyone on Thinking Anglicans noticing this. Does that mean that ++ Sentamu's policy of "say nothing and eventually those who are complaining will forget about it" has succeeded?

Posted by: Barry on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 5:59pm BST

"Will he attempt to discipline Fr Andrew Foreshow-Cain for converting his civil partnership into a marriage?" Concerned Anglican

Whether or not Andrew Foreshew-Cain was given a reprimand last year, disciplinary action cannot now be taken as the marriage took place more than a year ago. A complaint has to be lodged by a person with a proper interest within twelve months of the act complained of.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 6:30pm BST

I believe a reprimand would have been available to the Archbishop of York.
Although Jeremy Timm was a Lay Reader, the rules aparently applied to him because Lay Readership is a formal licensed Ministry and therefore comes under the same rules as ordained Ministry.
If that's the case, then the options for punishment of the same transgression would also be the same.

The whole thing is a mess because the rules were made on the back of an envelope when the Bishops realised that they had lost the fight against marriage equality and that their own priests would get married.
There was no doctrine about same sex marriage until then because you cannot have doctrine about something that doesn't exist.
So this doctrine was made on the hoof, with consierable opposition among the HoB itself, and without any of the processes normally required for doctrinal changes.

On top of that, nothing was said about the consequences of going against this doctrine, and immediately after the Pastoral Statement bishops admitted they had no idea what the consequences could be or what consequences each individual one might or might not impose.

When Jeremy Pemperton met with Bishop Inwood he was told that the Bishop had four possible options, one of which was to do nothing at all, another one to issue a rebuke.

Did Jeremy Timm have to lose his license?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 7:52pm BST

Your prognostication about the next ++Ebor may well be right, Fr David, but I sense it will be less likely after this brave and prophetic sermon. Why, even now, the rebuttals unit in Lambeth Palace must be working overtime to produce a comprehensive denial, complete with Powerpoint backing, that +Stephen ever intended any criticism of his archbishop or of the dash for managerial bishops.
But just think, if +Stephen had been preferred for even higher office when opportunity last presented, no-one would now be needing to deplore the takeover of episcopal selection and training by management science.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 8:24pm BST

Barry, the short answer is yes. In the case of a lay reader I think that the bishop can do whatever he likes.

Posted by: Turbulent Priest on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 8:24pm BST

Thanks for the information - so it seems that Fr Andrew Foreshaw-Cain was given a symbolic rap over the knuckles - and no-one complained/noticed for a year (how could they be so brutal as to do so anyway) but the two in the Northern Province have been poorly treated.

I guess that Fr Andrew was in a stronger position than some as he has (as I understand it) an old style freehold and can't really be touched. It might not be so easy for a 'common tenure' priest?

However, it would be hard for the Diocese of London or the Edmonton Area bishop to be more retributive on any others who convert civil partnerships into marriages. So the stage is set for more courageous clergy to get married. They only now risk lack of preferment and little else. The more who do so the weaker the C of E bishops' position becomes.

Also, I don't think that London would even attempt to discipline Lay Readers or LLMs as they call them there these days.

Posted by: Observer on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 8:59pm BST

"Oh please not another thread discussing who laid hands on whom!"

I seem to recall that this significant act is given much prominence in both Old and New Testaments: call me old fashioned but if we are to take the Word of God at all seriously then shouldn't this liturgical act have relevance in the 21st century and so be worthy of discussion? The Bishop of Willesden has not yet responded with his usual helpful clarification as to who did or did not do what to whom!
Fear not, an item on an excellent sermon by Sentamu's possible successor at the consecration of three suffragan bishops (2 female, one male) has soon given way to yet another thread on Gay Rights/Rites.

"Oh please not another thread discussing who laid hands on whom!"

P. S. Malcolm, if not + Chelmsford for Ebor, then who do you suggest would be Cantuar's favoured replacement as Primate of England, who do you suggest would have have the right managerial skills to please + Justin? Which current bishops would the "Media Commentariat" list in the inevitable "Ebor Stakes" to replace the present Archbishop of York?

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 5:15am BST

In non-Episcopal churches in the U.S. (certainly among the Tele-Evangelists of the Republican Party), the laying on of hands is not restricted to Bishops. Entrepreneur Donald Trump just received the 'laying on of hands' with prophecy from this religious constituency, anointing him in the expectation of his promotion the the ranks of President of the U.S.

Here is the proof:

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 8:32am BST

Father David,
yes, I'm not saying it's not an important topic, but it's not the only topic.
There is already a thread just one or two below this one where people are discussing laying on of hands.
This one is about a sermon that has absolutely nothing to do with women bishops.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 9:13am BST

I'm not sure that the only risk priests are facing is lack of preferment.
They will never be able to leave their posts and move to another one, as the bishop will then be able to deny them the new parish. There's workplace bullying too.
I believe Andrew Foreshew-Cain set up an incredibly inventive play-scheme inside his church and a post office cum cafe when the old post office was forced to close down. It was acclaimed by many, it made the BBC news, Glenda Jackson was there at the opening... and Andrew has said publicly that despite being invited the Bishop has yet not even acknowledged that it happened, that he has had no communication from him since the reprimand, where he was also told that the Bishop considered himself to have no more pastoral responsibility for him.

It takes a very courageous priest to face all of that.

God save us from successful bishops - indeed! The Bishop of Chelmsford is right. What we need are bishops who are messengers, sentinels and pastors.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 9:21am BST

Father David, Your P.S. at 0515 on 02/10/2015 raises three separate questions.

As to the first, I would expect the favoured candidate to come from either Oxford, Wycliffe Hall or Cambridge, Ridley Hall. Either the present +Dunelm or +Southwell & Nottingham might fit his bill but there are others. +Chelmsford, in my view, would be unlikely - Oxford, S. Stephen's House, SCP, AffCath (president) - not in +Cantuar's mould.

As to the second, I don't know the business management qualifications of any of our bishops; but, to be honest, I don't see them anywhere in the role of a bishop - pastor, teacher, evangelist, missioner, yes; MD, CEO - no.

As to the third, the media will, as always, talk much from little or no knowledge and probably get it totally wrong yet again.

Posted by: RPNewark on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 9:26am BST

Personally I'd commend the Bishop of Stepney, who is humble-hearted, genuinely pastoral and - I know from first-hand experience - very inclusive.

Can suffragan bishops leap-frog into positions of high office in the Church of England (not that he'd particularly welcome it).

Stepney is an ordinary and modern man, with real presence and goodness when you meet him. He would make a wonderful Archbishop.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 10:42am BST

Erika: " Christ you can become yourself. You can be set free from the snares and temptations of a world that tells you you aren’t good enough, good looking enough, thin enough, clever enough, young enough, and find a new identity and become completely yourself as you are meant to be in the communion with God that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes possible..."

Fantastic words, Erika. This is such an important gospel message for our days. And we become more of the best of who we are as we open our hearts to love, and set that love in action, through giving ourselves.

In a society where so many people feel rejected, overlooked, unloved, marginalised... this is a huge message.

Added to this, is the message of community. That there is a place in community for each person, because God welcomes them, and in community we find even more of who we are and who each of us is uniquely called to become.

It is an invitation to freedom (to become yourself, to come home to yourself) and to encounter the eternal household and good estate that is the community of the Holy Trinity, existing in all ages past, all ages still to come, and breaking through in the present by the Holy Spirit.

"When You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth."

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 10:56am BST

If the Bishop of Stepney were to become the next Archbishop of York, it would not be the first time in recent Church history that this had happened. In 1909 Cosmo Gordon Lang made that very same leap. I seem to remember that the present occupant of the Suffragan See of Stepney, like the Bishop of Chelmsford, preached a most inspiring and uplifting sermon at another consecration.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 2:32pm BST

May be worth looking at the letter Stephen Cottrell has written to the Church Times today, in response to comments here and elsewhere about his sermon.

Posted by: David Walker on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 4:29pm BST

The letter from Stephen Cottrell to which David Walker refers can be found here.

I will also add a link to it in the main article above.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 5:10pm BST

Now why did +Stephen feel he had to write that letter explaining his sermon was not what it was? And who is so sensitive to such wise and faithful reflection that it can't be left said?
It moved me to tears and said things that need saying.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 7:49pm BST

Concerned Anglican - the new Bishop of Edmonton can do nothing at all about Andrew Foreshew-Cain, even if he were minded so to do. That is because there is a limit of one year in which people can make complaints under the CDM about something that a clergyperson is alleged to have done, and as both A F-C and myself are well past the year limit nothing of that kind can be done any more.

Just to remind readers, both Andrew and I received written rebukes from our bishops acting in their capacity as Ordinary. These stay on our files and were copied to the ABC. They do not affect my holding a licence, nor Andrew's standing as a parish priest. They are, to my mind rather surprisingly, not time-limited, however, and remain there sine die.

That was in the Province of Canterbury. In York, on the other hand, Richard Inwood first removed my PTO and then refused me a licence for a job in the NHS in the diocese he was looking after at the time. This was altogether more serious and has become the material of tribunal proceedings whose judgement we await.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 9:33pm BST

Was it Benjamin Disraeli who once said "never complain and never explain"? I was rather sorry to read the Bishop of Chelmsford's defensive explanation in the letter he wrote to the Church Times as it seems to take the sting out of a most excellent and hard hitting address.
Recently at the Evening Office I read this from the Acts (Jerusalem Bible 24: 5) concerning St. Paul - "We have found this man a perfect pest". Perhaps in addition to the three categories of "messenger, sentinel and pastor" as ideal roles for those called to the office of bishop, a fourth category could be added that of "pest"? Surely following the example of the Apostle Paul, bishops are meant at times to stir things up by being perfect pests and a bit if a thorn in the flesh? So, I rather think it was a pity that Bishop Stephen did not take Dizzy's advice.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 9:11am BST

Might be a pity on one level but surely the effect is precisely to highlight the crude strong-arm tactics of our top leaders. There can never be enough exposure of that. And surely Bishop Stephen knows this as well as anyone. Like all here, I was genuinely heartened by the original address, as rarely happens when bishops speak.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 11:05am BST

John has it right. If Bishop Stephen has to clarify what he did not mean to say, this simply keeps the story going, and focuses everyone on the message he says he did not mean to deliver.

It furthers the idea of tension between the wonderful things he said and the "successful bishop" programme.

I'd say Bishop Stephen needs no training from successful bishops in public relations and communications strategy.

Who needs PowerPoint, when we have the Gospel?

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 1:12pm BST

One possible answer to your questions, David Runcorn, is contained in my post above of 8:24pm on 1st Oct. I never imagined that Lambeth would issue a rebuttal in their own name, but 'they have ways of making you talk'. I too find it regrettable that +Stephen felt it necessary to recant, for whatever reason. His sermon was brilliant, and speaks for itself.
Incidentally, I thought that Church Times policy was only to accept letters 'for exclusive publication'. So, since + Stephen's letter has been published here, and all over the place by now, perhaps they won't print it anyway!

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 1:30pm BST

Perhaps the last time such a prophetic sermon was preached at a consecration was when the Reverend Canon F. A. Simpson preached at the consecration of Mervyn Stockwood in Southwark cathedral on1st May 1959 when he said the following, coincidentally about preaching:-

"But to you, my brother, I hesitate to say this. For to you has been given a measure of eloquence; a rare gift, a noble gift, although unharnessed it can be a dangerous gift. But harnessed, not shackled, it will be all the more valuable in your new office, since not many holders of that office possess it."

On hearing these words Archbishop Fisher was said to be apoplectic with rage.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 5:16pm BST

I was in St Paul’s Cathedral for the consecrations of the bishops of Aston, Islington and Taunton. I heard the Bishop of Chelmsford’s sermon, watched the Archbishop of Canterbury’s reaction (described by some as a ‘grimace’ and by others as a ‘wry smile’) and listened to the comment afterwards. Many people were heartened and relieved to hear one of our senior bishops speaking of episcopal ministry in language which is distinctively and unapologetically Christian.

+Stephen’s letter of retraction leaves a feeling of discomfort and some difficult questions. +Stephen is a talented and media-savvy communicator. Senior leadership development is a controversial issue at the moment. I'm struggling to believe that it ‘never occurred’ to him how his comments might be heard and understood. His point about ‘successful bishops’ was not a throwaway line but was developed over the course of several paragraphs and clearly connected to the central thrust of his sermon. Having re read it I conclude he must have meant, well, what he said, actually.

Bishops are called, as +Stephen has so eloquently reminded us, to be sentinels, evangelists and pastors – those who ‘endlessly and constantly (tell) the story of what God has done in Christ’ That is the essence of their ministry. I’d be astonished if +Stephen seriously thinks that any secular business school, no matter how prestigious, could deliver this kind of formation.

Posted by: Jane Charman on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 7:02pm BST

What the original sermon, the reaction to it, the retraction and the reaction to that clearly show is that we respond to a particular authentic message authentically preached, and not to others, however carefully explained.
We are happy to be led, but we choose who we allow to lead us and who we will not be inspired by.
Is there a lesson in there for the HoB?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 8:13pm BST

+Stephen has been exploring these themes for a while. In 2012 he preached at the consecration of Tim Dakin and John Wraw. There too he included a powerful section on the priority of vulnerable faith, the necessity of apophatic darkness as part of Christian leadership and the need for the deep, spiritual refining of ministers and particularly bishops. It included these thoughts:
‘Sometimes it feels to me that ministry – all ministry, but maybe especially episcopal – is like running up the down escalator. The trouble is as life goes on, and the escalators longer and faster, the only option is to run faster and longer yourself. Brothers and sisters I have a dream. I have a dream of a different way of doing ministry. We may have to let God lead us to a place of darkness, blindness, unknowing. And there, in the utter lostness of that place, he will turn us around, and show us his way.
… there have been, and will be, moments of wretchedness and darkness, when I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know what to say, and in these moments, like in the gospel itself, where the sky blackens as Jesus hangs upon the cross, and where God raises him in the darkness before the dawn, it is in the refining emptiness of these moments that I learn to trust God and become again his voice and his hands to do his will and purpose for the world. ..... we bishops need this more than most because … it is a beguiling and seductive role. We need a different sort of bishop …. John, Tim let him take all the rich experiences of your lives and ministry; all the things that have led you to be called and chosen for this and let him cleanse and refine you. Be ‘an instrument in God’s hands’ so that Christ may be known. Let him lead you into the darkness as well as into light. …

Posted by: David Runcorn on Sunday, 4 October 2015 at 7:26am BST

David, thank you for that wonderful quote.

Particularly "the necessity of apophatic darkness" which has existed all the way back to Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son.

It seems to be God's 'modus operandi' and something we may all face, as we get stripped of our human resources and the end of all our understanding... before God - in perfection - comes.

It is very different from managerial training and human empowerment, and the concepts of corporate control on which we too easily rely, all those business models - though there may also be a place for skills like those.

In the end, though, we gaze toward God, at the end of our knowledge and understanding... gaze toward God in the apophatic darkness.

And from that point it may begin. At the point where we are simply given, offered, and all we have to go on is some indeterminate trust, and the weakness and vulnerability of our unknowing. Then it can begin again and again.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 4 October 2015 at 10:06am BST

Jane is correct in saying that +Stephen is a “talented and media-savvy communicator”, so it pays to read his letter carefully and note that it contains no retraction, only a correction to the exaggerations of Ruth Gledhill and “Archbishop Cranmer”.

In denying that his sermon was a “riposte or rebuke” he still allows that it was intended to be constructive criticism of “certain initiatives taking place in the Church of England”.

He writes, “It never occurred to me… that this would be interpreted as being against leadership development initiatives”, thereby keeping it general. It surely did occur to him that it would be interpreted as having misgivings about the current specific initiatives.

None of the critics of the Green Report / R &R programme is against leadership development per se, to my knowledge. Some of us have sensed a loss of focus on what should lie at the heart of our ministry and are very grateful to +Stephen for calling us back.

Posted by: Mark Hart on Sunday, 4 October 2015 at 2:55pm BST

When one looks for those in the Christian Tradition, like SS Chad and Francis (of Assisi); one realises that it is in their very humility, and unwillingness to grasp a leadership, that God has wrought a great deal of good through them - despite their suspicion of taking on the mantle of responsibility for preferment. Contrast this with the current thirst for a Business Management style of Ministry.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 6 October 2015 at 11:58pm BST

Came across an interesting bit of Evelyn Underhill

We build up the Church best,
not by a mere overhaul of the fabric and the furniture, desirable as this may sometimes be,
but by opening ourselves more and more
with an entire and humble generosity to that Spirit-God
Who is among us as one that serveth,
and reaches out through His Church towards the souls of men.
Thus the real life of that Church consists in the mutual love and dependence,
the common prayer, adoration and self-offering
of the whole inter-penetrating family of spirits
who have dared to open their souls without condition
to that all-demanding and all-giving Spirit of Charity,
in Whom we live and move and without Whom we should not exist.

Posted by: Mark Bryant on Thursday, 8 October 2015 at 9:47am BST
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