Sheffield – Bishop’s Statement

Bishop Steven Croft of Sheffield Diocese has made a further statement on the ordinations.

Bishop of Sheffield, Dr. Steven CroftOn Sunday 10th February I received a short note informing me that Pete Jackson had been ordained in Kenya the previous day to serve the Church plant in Walkley in Sheffield. This news was a complete surprise.

“In 2003, Christ Church Fulwood planted a new church, Christ Church Central, in the centre of the city led by the Revd. Tim Davies.  Despite extensive discussions, the plant could not be contained within the legal structures of the Church of England.

“The Diocese of Sheffield has a strong commitment to mission, to evangelism and to church planting of all kinds.  Shortly after I became Bishop in 2009, I invited the community of Christ Church Central to explore with me the possibility of making a Bishop’s Mission Order to regularize their life once again within the Diocese of Sheffield and the Church of England.  After careful consideration, this offer was declined by Christ Church Central because of alleged wider differences between Christ Church Central and the Church of England.

“In 2012, Christ Church Central established a new church plant, Christ Church Walkley, with the support of Christ Church, Fulwood. This new plant was established with no consultation with the Diocese or with St. Mary’s Walkley, the local parish.  Although there has been some local contact between St. Mary’s Walkley and the new plant, no-one in the Diocese was given any notification of the plans to ordain Pete Jackson in Kenya on 9th February.

“I will be entering into correspondence in the next few weeks with the various parties involved in the decision to ordain Pete Jackson in this way to explore their motives and reasons for acting in the way that they have.  I will also be making contact with the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd. Eliud Wabukala and with Pete himself.

“As a diocese we are particularly concerned to offer our support and prayers to the parish of St. Mary’s Walkley who quite understandably have found these developments unsettling.  Bishop Peter will be present with them on Sunday 3rd March.  We also hold the Revd. Pete Jackson and Christ Church Walkley in our prayers.  We know that neither community will be helped by being the focus of an ongoing wider controversy.

“As a diocese we continue in our commitment to mission, to the making of disciples and to joyful and creative church planting within the order and polity of the Church of England.”

+Steven Sheffield
26th February, 2013.

He confirms that an attempt was made to bring the Christ Church plants into the Diocese under a Bishop’s Mission Order, but these were rebuffed because of differences between Christ Church Central and the Church of England. What these differences are are not spelt out, but they may be crucial to understanding the issues involved.

Bishop Steven’s statement highlights the fact that Christ Church Central were not pushed out in any sense – they chose not to be Anglican in England because they could not accept the Bishop’s authority. This is crucial, because as an inheritor of the Nicene Catholic Episcopal model, Anglicanism holds very clearly to the notion of “one bishop in one place”. One accepts the canonical authority of the Bishop where one is resident unless the Bishop is clearly heretical. To border-cross is to imply that the local Bishop is heretical (see the actions in the USA where such valid border-crossings have been made) and, like it or not, this is what the Kenyan ordinations have done with Bishop Steven Croft.

I’ve had more than one Evangelical Bishop contact me privately this week expressing anger at this whole development. There is a real sense this move has shattered Evangelical unity at a time when it is desperately needed, especially as we do not know what the next year or two has in store (with the Pilling Report and other developments yet to come).

30 Comments on “Sheffield – Bishop’s Statement

  1. This is the same “leaver/stayer” argument that consumed conservatives in TEC. Some people look at the wall, and see the writing. They make a judgment that the church is too far gone to recover, and that it is best to leave quickly on their own terms. Others look at the depleting conservative ranks in the church and say “We must stay united in order to maintain our position.” But it is fundamentally a losing argument to insist that people stay in a church when they have lost confidence in that church. It’s also pointless to demand they respect the authority of a bishop within the territorial boundary he oversees. When confidence in a church is lost then confidence in the local bishop of that church is also lost. And this dynamic is only going to increase. The CoE is getting ready to chuck opponents of WO out the door. What does it expect will happen as a result? That decision will only accelerate this trend. Perhaps it is good for the leadership of the CoE to see the inevitable end result of the actions it seems determined to take.

    • Thank you, carl, for that eminently sensible comment. My sentiments exactly! Loyal Anglicans are soon to be unchurched anyhow, if the predictions are correct, so who can blame them for searching around for somewhere else to go? Especially now that we have bishops puffing off their support for gay marriage – and getting away with it. The writing is indeed upon the wall.

      • Shouldn’t we be jumping *when* the Church of England adopts a heretical position not beforehand (and in doing so simply precipitating said adoption of heresy). What we have at the moment is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        • Exactly! The reason that the CofE becomes more liberal is because evangelicals are leaving. The sad thing is that it is often other evangelicals that led to them leaving as they do not offer provision in areas where CE’s ask for it (if they did then the women bishops issue would have been sorted a long time ago).

          • But the reason a few Evangelicals are leaving already is because we ARE being progressively “sliced up” by liberal politicos – once there are too few left to stop them, “liberal apostasy” coming in like a flood (as per in TEC).

            If you don’t believe me, remember, for instance, how liberals welcomed the formation of “Fulcrum” as a liberal evangelical group (on women’s ministries)…. they now regularly lump it in with Reform as the agenda has moved on to sexuality.

            Liberals are completely predictable and completely copying the world… although they are on average 20-30 years behind the times. LOL!!

        • At what point does one jump from the burning oil platform into the icy sea? I suppose it depends on how trusting you are. I am old enough to remember 1992/3 and the promises made, which have since been denied, ignored, sneered at or simply put aside, so in my case the answer is ‘not very’.

          I am also a TEC-watcher, and cannot see the same progression having a different outcome.

            • No idea. I’m a soft Southerner. They might have more steel up there. But if we are all ‘to be one’ we shouldn’t have to be floundering about looking for a bishop who we can trust. I was thinking more generally. For FiF-ers like me that is not going to get any easier.

              • So just to take that idea a step further, is Steven Croft a Bishop that conservatives can trust? Because unless the answer is “no”, you’ve just talked yourself out of supporting these rogue Sheffield ordinations.

                • Peter, I don’t either ‘support’ or ‘not support’. I have no idea about Steven Croft, except from what I have read here. My whole point is that we shouldn’t have to interview bishops on whether or not they uphold traditional Christian teaching. They should ALL do so. That is what bishops are for.

                  I have felt many times like flouncing out of the C of E because they keep doing things I don’t like, and if there was some more suitable option for me, believe me, I would! And I can’t say I blame others for doing so, whether it is ‘correct’ from an institutional point of view or not. Some bishops are poisoning the well, and not being disciplined, which tarnishes all.

                  As for whether this group should continue to call themselves Anglican, well, that is for others to decide. I have no idea. They probably feel that they are faithful Anglicans, just as I feel I am, whether I am able to stay inside the Anglican structure or not.

            • The entire Church of England platform is smouldering and about to burst into flames. Those opposed to women’s ordination have already been told in effect to take a running jump, and very soon those opposed to the gay trajectory will be given the same pastoral invitation, lovingly worded, but amounting to dismissal from their own church.

  2. Just out of curiosity, how does “one bishop in one place” work when you have (as we do in our local situation) three bishops covering the same place – Diocesan, Area and Flying? Some may query the last of the three, but the middle one has been around with Anglican approval for some time.

    • Quite simply, because the authority of the first is delegated by Canon to the other two. The Diocesan remains the Diocesan and the Suffragan recognises his authority.
      Or look at the Church of the Province of New Zealand. Tikanga works because each of the three “streams” recognises the other streams as valid.

      Now compare this to border-crossing. The whole point of border crossing is because the authority of the Bishop is on longer valid, due to heresy or gross heteropraxis. Border crossing implies such a thing has happened and in plenty of places where it has occurred that is clearly so (e.g. TEC). But one can hardly call Steven Croft either a heretic OR a man who stymies church planting. That is what is so offensive about these actions – in order to be “Anglican” they have to imply that the local Anglican authority is in apostasy. If they don’t imply that then they aren’t Anglican!

  3. I notice that “Anglican Mainstream” often publish your posts, Peter.
    But on this occasion and on this subject they seem to have overlooked your very thoughtful offerings.
    They seem to have missed the reactions of the two local bishops too.
    Might someone be on holiday ?

  4. Peter

    You cannot win this argument by saying “You are creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by leaving.” All that will be heard is “The CoE is heading right where we said it was heading.” You are confirming the judgment you hope to reverse. Instead, you have to create a positive vision that explains how the present situation can be redeemed. You have to explain the path back to orthodoxy. Not formal orthodoxy as found in documents, but functional orthodoxy as practiced in churches, and reflected in leadership. And you have to do it while the powers that be are wheeling up the trebuchets to send you on your way to a ‘place of respect.’ You do not have an easy task. You will only make it harder for yourself by framing your argument around “Don’t desert in the middle of the fight.” Those to whom you would direct that plea manifestly do not see themselves as deserters.


  5. This really isn’t any of my business as I am neither a) and Anglican and b) living in the UK or Kenya. Not that that ever stops me giving my pennyworth … :-)
    I actually have surprised myself by how strongly I feel about this sort of issue which seems to be a classic case of church order. Evangelicals quite rightly shout it from the rooftops when some church liberal flagrantly denies the teaching of the church, or acts against its teachings, or, for example, when Giles Fraser urges disobedience against church superiors over gay marriage. The same should hold when evangelicals utterly ignore church order in this manner.
    Christ Church in its various incarnations is surely quite aware of the CofE procedure for ordination and has signed up for this by being and staying a member congregation of the CofE. If it does not agree with the way in which ordinations are done, or the theological orientation of any of the church hierarchy in Sheffield diocese from the Bishop down then in my view they have three options as follows:
    1. Follow the CofE’s clear (I assume in my ignorance that they are are clear?) processes and procedures for the ordination of clergy. They can express any of their concerns, in as strong a manner as they feel is necessary through the structures of the CofE.
    2. Go ahead and ordain outside CofE processes and procedures through a different Anglican province, in this case Kenya. They may have sound reasons for doing so and I may have sympathy for such reasons. But they have flouted the processes and procedures of the CofE and hence are of course subject to church discipline, which they must accept, whatever concerns they may express privately.
    3. If they feel after lengthy prayer and deliberation that their problems with the CofE or the Diocese of Sheffiled are so great as to break the bonds that unite them, they may decide to leave the CofE and affiliate to any of a large number of other denominations or independent church movements available to them. They can of course not take any property or salaries for clergy or church staff for which the CofE, national or Diocese of Sheffiled, has paid with them.
    Sauce … goose … gander. Fill in the gaps to form a well known saying!

  6. Peter:

    You say: ‘He confirms that an attempt was made to bring the Christ Church plants into the Diocese under a Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO), but these were rebuffed because of differences between Christ Church Central and the Church of England.’

    Rebuffed? Let’s see. We know that Rev. Tim Davies, who was the founding minister of Christ Church Central, was ordained as a CofE clergyman in 1993. This incident aside, I assume that he remains in good standing.

    Tim Davies simply describes the outcome of the exploratory discussion in 2002 by saying: ‘diocesan support was withdrawn’. In contrast, the bishop states:’the plant could not be contained within the legal structures of the Church of England.’

    The fact that the plant could not be contained within the legal structures of the CofE does not amount to a rebuff, but it does reveal the nature of the disagreement. If there is no alternative than for a church plant to operate under a Bishop’s Mission Order, it is subject to a Visitor’s review and oversight. Part of the duty of that Visitor would be provide a report to the Bishop.

    According to the Code of Practice:
    ‘On receiving the Visitor’s report. the Bishop must consider:
    1. if the mission initiative should continue; and
    2. if so, under what legal structures other than an Order it could continue and which is the most
    appropriate, or whether it should continue under an Order; and
    3. what if anything is to be done to implement any other recommendations or comments in the Visitor’s report.’

    If the BMO was the only choice, early disagreement about the permanence of diocesan support would be plausible, but does that amount to a rebuff? Could the church plant operate under a perpetual BMO that could be revoked? What alternative legal structure is available beyond the BMO? Even though ‘alleged wider differences’ were described, the key issue of diocesan support would remain.

    ‘Bishop Steven’s statement highlights the fact that Christ Church Central were not pushed out in any sense – they chose not to be Anglican in England because they could not accept the Bishop’s authority.’

    As far as I can see, Tim Davies remains the sole ordained minister at a growing Anglican church. Yet, without diocesan support, this plant has been going fruitfully and credibly for 10 years. It continues to minister to what it describes as: ‘those who have no church’.

    Past discussions over Christ Church Central may have shaped Rev. Tim Davies views on how an open-ended BMO would affect Christ Church Central and Walkley’s chances of long-term survival. I’ve seen how easily the plug can be pulled on even a thriving church plant.

    Even though the Code of Practice may acknowledge the importance of wide consultation and the Guidance on Pioneer Ministry is inspiring, in reality, I’ve seen more weight is given to the presence and finance for an ordained minister than providing continued support for a congregation that believes in God’s gifting of lay leadership within their midst.

    Some would say, ‘Once bitten, twice shy’.

      • Although he preached at both Morning Services at Fulwood last Sunday, I assume since Christ Church Central is not part of the diocese and he does not have a PTO within the diocese.

        If he no longer holds this licence, since leaving Fulwood to found Christ Church Central, it does now make me wonder ‘who rebuffed whom?’

        Either way, if the failure to accept the terms of the BMO means he’s no longer recognised by the diocese, I suppose it was only a slim chance that he would respond to later diocesan overtures in 2009? By then the rift may have become unfathomable.

        This all seems to come down to ‘by whose authority’ once again. Perhaps, for the time being, like Paul, some insist on parting company over the matter of those who are considered unsuitable for ministry. Perhaps, like Barnabus, the Kenyans see the situation quite differently. Tough times may soften hard hearts.

  7. A simple question, Peter. Why was a Conventional District not an option? What level of clergy could prevent the Bishop from establishing Christ Church Central in this way?
    I think this is the true story behind the story.

      • FWIW, Rev. Julian Mann (Cranmer’s Curate) Sheffield vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge wrote this

        ‘The parish plant is a group from a large conservative evangelical or evangelical charismatic church going with diocesan approval to a struggling and often non-evangelical parish church with a view to reinvigorating it and using it as a springboard for evangelism in that community.’

        ‘Holy Trinity Brompton in London championed this approach in the Eighties and Nineties, sending its curates to lead groups to establish parish plants. The Revd Paul Perkin, a Reform council member, who under God has done a wonderful job in St Marks Battersea Rise, led a parish plant from HTB.’

        ‘A non-parochial church plant is a group going from a large evangelical church and planting in the parish of another church without diocesan approval and meeting in a school or other venue. More of these churches may get diocesan approval now that the system of Bishops’ Mission Orders is in place, but hitherto such ventures have usually involved the minister stepping out of the licensing system.’

        ‘We have an example of this here in Sheffield Diocese in the form of Christ Church Central. It was planted from Christ Church Fulwood in 2003 when Canon Hugh Palmer, the current rector of All Souls Langham Place (2005), was vicar. The Revd Tim Davies, curate at Fulwood, led a group of around 50 to plant in the parish of St Matthews in central Sheffield and they started meeting in Egerton Hall. Canon Palmer was chairman of the diocesan mission committee at the time, so his decision not to go down the parish planting route was understandably controversial’. emphasis and parenthesis mine

        Why was a non-parochial church planting not preferable to a parish plant? Rev. Julian appears to suggest that it was the former canon’s decision. Thus, by founding a non-parochial church plant, Tim Davies stepped out of the licensing system. The rest, including the latest events, is simply a consequence of that departure from the legal structures of the CofE.

      • One more snippet of information. St.Matthew’s is an Anglo-Catholic parish church with an electoral roll that stands at 62. By comparison, Christ Church Central reported in its financial statement for year ending September 2008, a congregation of 200 grown from the 50 or so that left Fulwood 5 years before.

        Could an evangelical initiative have become the parish church plant supported by an Anglo-Catholic incumbent? Tell me what I’m missing here. Hmm…I think Tim Davies has done a remarkable job as an unlicensed minister with a team that has zero vocational support from the CofE.

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