A Little Spat in Sheffield

Updated: February 19, 2013

After publishing this piece on the evening of the 19th of February I have received a number of emails adding extra facts to the details below. I'll be publishing a new post shortly adding some more information and important clarifications.

Many of you by now will have seen the press release from Anglican Mainstream about the ordination of a pastor from Sheffield by a Kenyan bishop.

Nearly 10 years later both parent and daughter churches have continued to grow numerically and partnered one another in mission to the city. An expression of this partnership was the planting of Christ Church Walkley last year, with the initial members drawn from both congregations living in the area. Pete Jackson, who has been one of the associate ministers at Christ Church Central, is the founding minister.

Although recommended by the Reform Panel of Reference and trained at Oakhill Theological College, Pete had not been ordained since Christ Church Central was not part of Sheffield Diocese. Concern that his ministry and that of the new church should be appropriately recognised led us to consult the leadership of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), who subsequently wrote to the GAFCON Primates’ Council with a request that they should facilitate Pete’s ordination.

We are immensely grateful for the leadership of the Archbishop of Kenya, Eliud Wabukala, as chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council, and to the Bishop of Kitui, Josephat Mule, who ordained Pete as a deacon in the Anglican Church of Kenya on Saturday 9th February. We see this event as the latest expression of Gospel partnership between the churches in Sheffield and Kenya. Tim Davies’ father was Provost of Nairobi cathedral in the 1970s, Tim was born in Kenya and is himself an honorary canon of All Saints Cathedral Nairobi. Christ Church Central already supports mission partners in Nairobi.

Let me summarise this for you. Christ Church Fulwood (a Conservative Evangelical Church of England church) has been conducting a number of church plants within Sheffield, mainly in areas that have very low rates of church attendance. One of these is Christ Church Walkley where Pete Jackson is the pastor. They meet in Walkley Library which is within the parish of St Mary’s Walkley. And here begins the problem…

Church PlantBecause they are operating within another parish, Christ Church Walkley isn’t an official Church of England church. The Church of England normally likes its parish boundaries so you can’t go and plant another church within someone else’s parish. I say “normally”, because in fact there are special arrangements. For example, when St Thomas Crookes was expanding it sought to take over a warehouse site in a different part of the city. If you stick their postcode into A Church Near You you’ll see that a chunk of the parish of St Bartholomew has been removed and is now an extra-parochial place under a Bishop’s Mission Order. This is the campus for St Thomas’ Philadelphia (and when I say campus I mean campus – there are now a number of buildings). Apparently the vicar of St Bartholomew’s wasn’t too pleased about St Thomas’ coming to plant in his parish, but the Archdeacon and Bishop pretty well over-ruled him.

And I make that last point to emphasise the fact that the Diocese of Sheffield is not averse to mission and church plants. Far from it – the current Bishop, Stephen Croft, is one of the people behind Fresh Expressions in the Church of England and a previous Archbishop’s Missioner. He gets mission and he gets church planting and trying new things where old things have failed. So that begs the question – why are the Christ Church Fulwood plants not operating as official Church of England plants? If the diocese can be highly flexible to the point of going over the head of the local parish priest when it comes to St Thomas’ Philadelphia, why not in other cases?

Perhaps someone who knows the history better can share with me. But before I make my final points, let me just point out one thing in the press release that should be clearly understood. The statement reads,

Although recommended by the Reform Panel of Reference and trained at Oakhill Theological College, Pete had not been ordained since Christ Church Central was not part of Sheffield Diocese.

Now, reading between the lines I think this tells us that there does not appear to have been any attempt for Pete Jackson to go through the proper Church of England assessment processes for ordination. These are, to meet with a Diocesan Director of Ordinands who may also request the candidate meet with some other examining chaplains, to then (if the DDO is willing to put the candidate forward) attend a Bishops’ Advisory Panel who will either recommend the candidate for training or turn him/her down. Then, after training the training institution gives a final recommendation as to whether the candidate should be ordained.

Got that? Now compare that to what the press release tells us. Firstly, Pete Jackson was approved by the Reform Panel of Reference. Would it be churlish of me to respond “So what?” The Reform Panel of Reference is not part of the official Church of England ordination process so it is neither here nor there as regards whether Pete Jackson was a valid Ordinand.  Secondly, Pete Jackson studied at Oak Hill. Now I happen to think that Oak Hill is a great training college and it could be that Pete Jackson even attended some of the ministry specific components of the Oak Hill course, but none of that is a reason why he should be ordained in the Church of England. Lots of independent students attend Oak Hill as they do many other Anglican training colleges in England.

So why wasn’t Pete Jackson ordained by Sheffield Diocese? Well we don’t know, but it appears that since Christ Church Walkley was not operating as an official Church of England plant, the leadership chose instead to approach the Kenyan Church who were more than happy to ordain Pete Jackson. This of course came as a complete surprise to the Diocese of Sheffield who said,

The Diocese of Sheffield was made aware last week that Pete Jackson from Christ Church Walkley had been ordained in Kenya on Saturday 9 February 2013. This came as a total surprise as we had no prior knowledge or communication regarding this. We continue to seek further clarification and dialogue with those involved in the ordination at various levels and are taking advice so that we have a comprehensive picture of what took place. This will enable us to reflect further on the developments and their implications.

Hmmmm…..

Here’s my concern folks. There is absolutely no indication from either the Anglican Mainstream press release or the Diocese of Sheffield press release that at any time Pete Jackson attempted to be assessed for ordination by the Diocese of Sheffield and the wider Church of England. Indeed, the wording of the press release cleverly avoids the issue by simply stating,

Pete had not been ordained since Christ Church Central was not part of Sheffield Diocese

Well, yes, but the same goes for any pastor of any church not part of the Church of England surely? And this leads me to ponder what is really going on here. As far as I can see there are two possible scenarios.

  1. At some point Pete Jackson approached the Diocese of Sheffield to inquire about ordination, sponsored by Christ Church Fulwood and he was turned down. If this happened then there is no indication of it in either press release and one wonders why not. That leads me to surmise that this didn’t happen. Furthermore, if it did happen why doesn’t the press release tell us so? What’s not being shared?
  2. Alternatively, there was no serious attempt made to have Pete Jackson ordained within the Church of England structures and following the proper processes and instead the request was made to Kenya which was granted.

Now if this second scenario is the case then there are serious implications and conservatives should pause for thought before blindly accepting it. What it implies is that it is perfectly reasonable for Evangelicals to bypass the official Church of England structures because they don’t suit them and simply get ordained elsewhere. This is a dangerous precedent precisely because what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander – if conservatives start ignoring the structures then we have no right to complain when liberals do the same.

Now, I grant you, there may have been difficulties in getting Pete Jackson ordained through the Church of England structures and processes, but surely that avenue should have been explored first before seeking oversight elsewhere? If Bishop Steven had point blank refused to ordain Pete Jackson then there might have been a case for border-crossing. If Bishop Steven had point blank refused to even consider the Christ Church plants as having anything to do with the Church of England then there might have been a case for border-crossing to support mission. But I keep getting drawn back to the example of St Thomas’ Philadelphia. The Diocese of Sheffield has a clear track record of supporting church planting with its approval, even in the presence of opposing local clergy, so what has gone wrong in the case of these other plants? If they want to be seen as Anglican, why are they not trying to make an effort to fit into the Diocesan structures, in the See of a Bishop who is probably one of the most mission oriented of the whole House?

Finally, please let no-one misunderstand what I am saying. I think the Christ Church plants are a great mission initiative and a heartily approve of it. Here’s the video as a part of Christ Church Fulwood’s Vision 2013 series.

Brilliant, but it begs the question – if Christ Church Fulwood is choosing to operate these church plants outside the Church of England parish system, why are they then complaining when the Church of England doesn’t recognise them? Once again, St Thomas’ Philadelphia was carved out of a local parish with the full approval of the Diocese – why couldn’t that happen again? What has gone wrong?

Ultimately this is a conflict of two competing missional strategies and we see this at play in the very Diocese we are discussing. The first strategy seems to be to plant churches in other parishes regardless of the wishes of that parish or the wider Diocese and then to seek (to all intents and purposes) alternative oversight for that church. The second strategy is to try and work with the Diocese to provide proper resources for planting, but accepting the limitations of accountability within the Diocesan structures. St Thomas’ Philadelphia manages this quite successfully by being formally an Anglican and Baptist LEP (Local Ecumenical Partnership) and this then allows them to have St Thomas Crookes as a formal “Anglican” church, Philadelphia as a formal Anglican / Baptist joint venture and City Base and Kings Centre as quasi-Baptist church plants. It also means that St Thomas’ Anglican ordinands can move through the Philadelphia and Crookes sites and into the formal Church of England assessment structures as many do.

And if that happens successfully for St Thomas’ and its plants, why not for Christ Church and its plants? The answer to that question might be the thing that explains the real reasons for this whole situation occurring in the first place.

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  • chriskilgour

    Can I paraphrase as ‘Shock as non-Church of England minister, leading non-Church of England church plant, not ordained by Church of England’?

    Christ Church, Walkley would appear to be a plant from Christ Church Central:

    “Christ Church Walkley is a church plant from Christ Church Central (a plant from Fulwood in 2003). Christ Church Walkley was launched on Sunday 7th October 2012. A number of our church family have decided to become part of that new church.” (http://www.fulwoodchurch.co.uk/who-we-are/vision-2013)

    Your comment about Fulwood’s church plants operating outside the parish system thus feels somewhat disingenuous. Christ Church, Endcliffe and Holy Cross, Gleadless are plants directly from Fulwood and both are led by ordained Church of England clergy and part of the Diocese of Sheffield (as would be expected from a Church of England plant).

    However, I think your subsequent question is quite interesting, “Once again, St Thomas’ Philadelphia was carved out of a local parish with the full approval of the Diocese – why couldn’t that happen again?” Although, I’m not sure how a non-Church of England plant would have been able to have a bit of a parish given to it by a Church of England parish!

    [Disclosure: I was previously at Christ Church, Fulwood.]

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Thanks Chris, that’s really useful. The impression I’m getting from your comment (and other communications I’ve received) is that actually Christ Church Fulwood does seem to be trying to play nicely with the Diocese, but that Christ Church Walkley have gone rogue!

      • David

        Dear All,

        I’m a student worshipping at St Mary’s Walkley, and from this perspective it certainly doesn’t look like Christ Church Fulwood are trying to play nicely with the Diocese. They are backing the uninvited, unasked for church plant into another parish to the hilt. The separation of the two churches is questionable when Jane Patterson, a member of Christ Church Fulwood, on General Synod and Crown Nominations Committee, is also a Trustee of Christ Church Central. Also given half of the congregation comes from Christ Church Fulwood where it was announced as a joint venture I think playing nice has nothing to do with it. It should probably also be noted that the vicar of St Mary’s is a woman and neither of the Christ Churches accepts the ordained ministry of women. I would say given the history in the Sheffield Diocese of the 9 o’clock service issues of accountability would be more thought through by the bigger churches. Pete Jackson is responsible to Tim Davies but who is he responsible to? A bishop thousands of miles away? Anyone?

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          Thanks for commenting David.

          It’s worth just pointing out that Christ Church Central and Walkley run as pretty well independent churches, so they don’t just do the bidding of Fulwood. In recent years Fulwood has successfully planted two congregations with the full agreement of the Diocese.

          • David

            I think that’s an open question to be honest. They may attempt to appear independent but that is not what is coming across here. If they are then the accountability issue is even more important. I’m aware of the other two church plants in the diocese, and both times it was done after negotiation with and the agreement of the parishes concerned and in many ways was a graft more so than a plant. This however was not done after negotiation but was done without reference to the diocese, and is referred to at Fulwood as their church plant. Its not being done in a dead, empty church, just one that holds different theological views to the Christ Church brand. They may legally be separate churches but this is the end of the separation. At St Mary’s Walkley we first heard about the plant when it was announced at Christ Church Fulwood to the congregation as their church plant. They are involved and it comes across as empire building in the name of the Gospel. Given that this church plant was done without reference to the diocese, as was this ordination, its a rather large two fingers up to the Bishop the Diocese and the whole Church of England.

      • chriskilgour

        I’m not trying to give that impression – I simply don’t know enough about the Christ Church Walkley situation to try to give any impression about it!

  • Revd_Dave

    Quite frankly I think we need to remind everyone as a church that conservative evangelicals are equal members of the body of Christ – not just irritating and somewhat offensive backwoodsmen who need to “get over it” w.r.t. the 39 articles, women leaders and sexuality.

    It would also be good to make our geographical structures permissive rather than restrictive. We should be happy if there are Anglican Christians bringing people to the Lord in our patches – and the diocese should be happy to have new, young, growing churches contributing to their costs. The only restriction should be on “sheep stealing” and that shouldn’t be a huge restriction as we only have about 4% “market share” at the moment…

    Let the Archbishops dole out Bishops Mission Orders and open the way for the dynamic churches of every persuasion to church plant wherever they can… before God’s bypassed us completely.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Isn’t this an example of what’s called an irregular ordination?

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Broadly speaking, yes.

  • Perry Butler

    David..an interesting post. What do the “Locals” make of this? ie those in the neighbourhood who St Mary’s seek to serve as the parish church? the people who look to the church for the occasional offices, Christmas/Easter /harvest/ mothering sunday, the brownie pack, Sunday school, occasional pastoral care? What do they make of having a Parish Church and an “Anglican” church? Do they know what the latter word means? Does it have any resonance? Do they perceive any relationship between the new Church and the Parish Church? Do they think it is any sense the same “brand”? I assume Ch Ch, although a “gathered church” and thus sociologically like the local methodists or URC ( are they still there?), does baptisms..but marriages? funerals? What is the word on the street? the bus stop? the chip shop? the drop-in centre? Have they noticed? What do the local undertakers make of it? It would be interesting to know what the clergy chapter makes of it? the ecumenical fraternal? the local RC priest?
    We dont know…but I suspect it is these sorts of questions that are actually important because they impinge on what sort of Church the C of E will end up being when I am dead and gone!
    Perry Butler

    • David

      Dear Perry, The community are a little confused but the news is only just starting to filter through. But in response to church plant one of our readers had a conversation with the butchers wife. She had just been talking with two members of Christchurch Walkley, when it was in the early stages of being planted. They were telling her about it, to which she responded but we already have a church, its St Mary’s. She was then told that this was only for old people. To be honest I don’t think the particular tradition Christchurch represents will go down well it Walkley. Its a fairly independently minded place which is pretty inclusive as well as being unpretentious. As another example BMW’s and 4x4s showed up for a Christchurch meeting and one of our wardens was asked is this your lot, to which she responded no. The community is unlikely to respond well to what could be seen as patronising behaviour from those living in S10, the more expensive post code that Christchurch Fulwood is located in. Especially if they listened to the mp3 of a discussion about the church plant where the fact that housing prices in Walkley are cheap was mentioned as making it easy for people to “move in”.
      Dave

      • Perry Butler

        Dear Dave…I know +Steve Croft having been a DDO….You should make sure he hears this. Suburban middle class cons evengelicalism is a phenomenon in itself…I hope the diocese( and others ) beef up their support for St Marys. You should forward this post to Peter Ould…albeit personally. Perry Butler

        In a message dated 26/02/2013 23:22:12 GMT Standard Time, notifications@disqus.net writes:

        (http://disqus.com/)

        David wrote, in response to Perry Butler:
        Dear Perry, The community are a little confused but the news is only just starting to filter through. But in response to church plant one of our readers had a conversation with the butchers wife. She had just been talking with two members of Christchurch Walkley, when it was in the early stages of being planted. They were telling her about it, to which she responded but we already have a church, its St Mary’s. She was then told that this was only for old people. To be honest I don’t think the particular tradition Christchurch represents will go down well it Walkley. Its a fairly independently minded place which is pretty inclusive as well as being unpretentious. As another example BMW’s and 4x4s showed up for a Christchurch meeting and one of our wardens was asked is this your lot, to which she responded no. The community is unlikely to respond well to what could be seen as patronising behaviour from those living in S10, the more expensive post code that Christchurch Fulwood is located in. Especially if they listened to the mp3 of a discussion about the church plant where the fact that housing prices in Walkley are cheap was mentioned as making it easy for people to “move in”. Dave

        _Link to comment_ (http://redirect.disqus.com/url?url=http://www.peter-ould.net/2013/02/19/a-little-spat-in-sheffield/#comment-813457488:_g5ffsPw37mbLT 0XPME7HLwZknU&impression=d735817a-806a-11e2-a36c-00304834ba4a&type=notificat ion.post.registered&event=email&behavior=click)

  • SeekTruthFromFacts

    On a point of fact: St Thomas Crookes’ has always been an Anglican/Baptist LEP, at least since the 80s and probably back to the creation of the idea (60s?). I wonder whether this has always given them an extra measure of leeway with the diocese – everyone understands that they are permanently /sui generis/.

    I am grateful that Peter is helping people to think through this issue – and glad that I’m not the one in the difficult position of advising Pete Jackson and the brothers and sisters in Sheffield.

  • Tom
  • sheppied007

    Okay. The points are well-made, but can someone tell me where church plant offerings go? If a mission is set up outside of the normal parish system, is the plant supposed to be self-funding, or do they contribute to the parish share in some way?

    Ordination is more than providing a path to priestly authority. It would show an enduring and open commitment to resource those involved in the local effort.

    My guess is that like many other church plants, it will achieve a certain size and the CofE will be unwilling to support it as a separate congregation any further. A local church plant near me was shut down abruptly, the Church Army minister was redeployed and congregants were immediately instructed to join two nearby parish churches. Many felt betrayed by those who made the decision. They didn’t see themselves as a feeder church, but a thriving community.

    My bet is that, in contrast with CofE diffidence, the Kenyans are happy to provide the sort of funding and support for this effort needs in order to endure in the lives of those who see it as their community.

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