Church of England Newspaper April 14
Summit with evangelicals backfires as Bishop Christopher Chessun faces call for him to resign
The numerous liberal Catholic appointments in the diocese of Southwark are causing increasing concern for evangelicals, in a row that is threatening to split the diocese. The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, has appointed liberals to the last seven senior vacancies in the diocese, including the Cathedral Dean and Bishop’s Chaplain.
Attending a meeting of the Southwark Diocesan Evangelical Union (DEU) last Monday, many felt he failed to satisfy the concerns of the 100 people in attendance. The Rev Stephen Kuhrt later said: “He has been politically naïve,” and called the situation an ‘absolute gaffe’. The vicar, who chairs Fulcrum, did not doubt Bishop Christopher’s integrity, but claimed he had been very badly advised. Fulcrum, while a more moderate evangelical Anglican group, joined Reform in the condemnation of the appointments, claiming the views of evangelicals were not being heard.
Mr Kuhrt still affirmed their hope for unity, which is central to Fulcrum’s aims, but called the shift ‘just a recipe for chaos’. Speaking following the Monday meeting, many highlighted the money that evangelical churches bring into the diocese with their thriving congregations. While mainstream evangelicals – like Fulcrum – see the benefit of what their Bishop calls ‘an immense spectrum’, there is a group who are beginning to resent funding it, as they feel they are being sidelined. Speaking at the meeting a layman, Peter Gowland, predicted a withdrawal of funding – ‘this is not a threat, just a prophecy’. Concerned evangelicals have stressed were the situation the other way around – that evangelicals had been continually appointed – the liberal Catholics would be rightly frustrated.
The group also fear the effects this imbalance will cause in terms of homosexuality, as the diocese is working more and more with those who seek to alter the church’s traditional stance on the issue. Reform member Jonathan Fletcher said he was distraught for the Church of England, but acknowledged the bravery of the Bishop for attending. He said the situation was ‘very sad indeed’.
During the meeting, the Bishop claimed he wanted to work more closely with the DEU. He said there was a difference between the perception and reality of not being heard. “His response was unsatisfactory,” one attendee said. “He just spoke generally.” Some members of the diocese, including prominent clergy, are now calling for the resignation of the Bishop of Southwark, despite having been in the post for only a year. “I think they have got to have a creative solution,” Mr Kuhrt said. “It would not do any harm to just say ‘yes, we have made a real blunder.’” Because of Easter the Bishop was unavailable to comment further.
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