The Kidderminster and Chadderton saga

In July 2001, the Vicar of Christ Church, Chadderton, the Revd Steve Donald, wrote to the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Christopher Mayfield, after the PCC passed a resolution demanding that all bishops invited to Christ Church would be asked to sign up to Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. This was because Mr Donald had expressed his concerns over the “prominent part” that the Bishop of Middleton, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, had played in Worcester diocese before going to Manchester, and the “radical views on the issue of homosexuality” that he appeared to share with the Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby. He likened his church situation to that of St John’s, Kidderminster.

The Manchester bishops made a corporate response, which acknowledged that they took a range of approaches in the matter of human sexuality and stated: “Nevertheless, we cannot accept the principle of being asked to sign particular statements or documents as a condition of officiating at a church in the diocese. All of us at our episcopal consecration took the oath of canonical obedience to the archbishop, and in making the declaration of assent declared our belief in the faith which is revealed in the holy scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds, to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness.”

In an apparent volte-face, the Bishop will now conduct the confirmation at Christ Church, Chadderton after agreeing to sign up “publicly and personally” to the Lambeth ’98 resolution on human sexuality. Mr Donald, who had previously invited a retired bishop, the Rt Revd Howell Davies, to do the confirmations, declared Bishop Mayfield’s decision to be “good news for orthodoxy”, and commended the Bishop of Manchester for his courage and conviction. “He has accepted the compelling case to clarify where his diocese stands on this crucial matter of biblical authority and doctrine,” he said.

But a spokesperson for the Bishop of Manchester (who has refused to speak personally on the matter) revealed a more complex gloss on the bishop’s decision: “Essentially, he told Steve Donald that he continues to subscribe to the Lambeth resolution. He picked out particularly the teaching of scripture, the upholding of the faithfulness of marriage in lifelong union, recognition that there are people who experience themselves as having homosexual orientation, the commitment to listen to their experience, and the call to minister pastorally and sensitively to all.” The Bishop had said that he was “very much looking forward to being at Christ Church, Chadderton, for a service of confirmation”, said the spokesperson. He confirmed that none of the Manchester bishops would be commenting on or responding to the Bishop’s action, though Changing Attitude understands that they were not universally happy with the decision their diocesan had made.

Mr Donald told parishioners in a letter that the Bishop had asked that a signed copy of the resolution was to be displayed in each church in the diocese. Changing Attitude has also been told that in fact the bishop only agreed to the resolution being displayed at Chadderton. Steve Donald said that the Bishop of Manchester had handled “the difficulty with grace and wisdom. He is to be commended for ‘going the second mile’ and showing great courage and conviction in what he has now done.” Mr Donald contrasted the way Bishop Mayfield had handled the dispute with the Kidderminster problem in the Diocese of Worcester where Charles Raven is in dispute with the Bishop of Worcester on homosexuality. “What a contrast between the way Bishop Christopher Mayfield has handled this dilemma and the way Bishop Peter Selby has handled it! By acting as he has done the Bishop of Manchester has strengthened the gospel, while the action of Bishop Peter Selby has been to undermine it,” he said. Kidderminster – Charles Raven leaves The Revd Charles Raven left St John’s Kidderminster on 31 January after the expiry of his licence as Team Vicar. He has moved to the neighbouring parish of Bewdley, where his Forerunner trust is to set up an independent congregation. The unofficial church plant meeting in a community centre will be known as Christ Church Kidderminster. Mr. Raven, said that he guessed about 60 people, including children, would attend the services which amounts to just over half of the usual congregation.

Mr Raven’s supporters, thought to number between 60 and 80, have signed up to the Forerunner Trust, which will fund Mr Raven’s housing and stipend, and also provide support for his former Assistant Curate, the Revd Kelvin Shilvock, whose licence expired last June. Mr Raven said that he believed about three-quarters of the congregation actually supported his stand, but a number could not bring themselves to leave the building or drop their ties with the Church of England as an institution.

In a press statement issued on Sunday 27 January, after his last service in the parish, Mr Raven spoke of a “draconian” attempt to force him out of the parish. The Archbishop of Canterbury had “sadly, failed to act”, said Mr Raven. “However, in June 2000, he was prepared to firmly rebuff a request to carry out a confirmation at St John’s by a visiting Ugandan bishop, Dr Eustace Kamanyire, citing his ‘metropolitical jurisdiction’ over the Bishop of Worcester. “We have no wish to secede from the Church of England, but do not wish to precipitate an undignified skirmish in the parish by trying to stay. . . “The irony, of course, is that we have o quarrel with the teaching and beliefs of the Church of England, but find ourselves forced out by those who do not uphold its teaching.” Mr Raven, who has been warned against confrontational tactics before, during or after worship, is said to have expressed his intention of “leaving quietly”, and on his last Sunday asked people to leave without recriminations. Mr Raven is still seeking alternative oversight from an Anglican bishop for his congregation.

Dr Selby will preach at Evensong at St John’s on Sunday evening, 3 February. He would make no comment until after the expiry of Mr Raven’s licence. He recently warned Mr Raven that he could be prosecuted under the 1860 Ecclesiastical Offences Act if he remained at St John’s, the same act which was used to prosecute Peter Tatchell over his invasion of the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral.

The Revd David Bunting, chairman of the conservative Evangelical society, Reform, described Mr Raven’s departure as “a sad day for the diocese of Worcester and a warning to the Church of England”. Pledging the network’s support for Mr raven and his congregation, he said: “I know that many of us will be encouraged to stand firm against pressure to compromise in our teaching by his courageous example.” He said: “The Gospel of Christ as authoritatively revealed and expounded in the Bible is the only basis for Christian unity and although Charles Raven has been forced to take radical steps, we hold the Bishop of Worcester responsible for this disunity in his diocese.” Mr Banting said he had accepted an invitation to speak at the new Christ Church, Kidderminster. History This brings to an end a conflict between Mr Raven and his bishop, Dr Peter Selby, which began when St John’s District Church Council (DCC) passed a motion, in September 1999, refusing to accept Dr Selby’s jurisdiction, on the grounds that he had nor “personally and publicly” subscribed to Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference on human sexuality. After meetings with the Bishop, Mr Raven and his church council decided to ban the Bishop from conducting a confirmation service.

Mr Raven, who has had the maximum tenure allowed under his contract, subsequently refused to accept the jurisdiction of his Team Rector, the Revd Harold Goddard, or to work with the elected church-wardens of St John’s.

In September 2001 the District church council (DCC) of St John’s Kidderminster overturned a resolution made two years earlier under the Team Vicar, the Revd Charles Raven, refusing to recognise the authority of his diocesan bishop. The DCC passed a motion welcoming the oversight of the Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Revd Peter Selby. Bishop Peter Selby welcomed the news, saying that the previous resolution had made his ministry “dependent on my signing a particular formation. A Church Council has no authority to do that.”

However, Mr Raven said that the DCC – which operates with delegated powers from St John’s PCC – “was not a credible voice” for the congregation. Earlier in 2001, he announced that he would not be leaving St John’s in January 2002 when his licence expired. He portrayed the diocese as forcing him to leave his job and his home. In reality, Peter Selby has been open to exploring Mr Raven’s future and explained that his licence will not be extended beyond its expiry at the end of January 2002 because it has already been extended once and cannot legally be extended again.

For reports of these events we are partly dependent on the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper. In turn they are dependent on the version of events given to them by the individuals involved, versions which often spin the truth to their advantage. We are aware that Bishop Peter Selby has been the subject of misrepresentation, and this may also be true for Christopher Mayfield, Charles Raven and Steve Donald. This adds to the abuse and damage which is occurring in both dioceses. It is also painful for lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the Church of England to read about such hostile, prejudiced actions, both for the effect they have on us and on the bishops in each diocese.

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