On Monday 19 April 2004, the appointment was announced of Canon Dr Jeffrey John as the new Dean and Rector of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans. Dr John has been in his present post as Canon Chancellor and Bishop’s Adviser for Ministry in the Diocese of Southwark since 1997. A date is yet to be set, but Canon John is expected to take up his new role this autumn.
Dr John said in a press conference after the appointment was confirmed that he backed the idea of same-sex unions. “I support the state and the Church offering gay people a framework of living their lives. I hope that ultimately the Church will be able to bless that kind of relationship too.” He acknowledged the issue of gay weddings was like “red rag to bulls” to conservatives. Dr John said he wouldn’t be attempting to do anything in the Abbey “which goes against the canons of the Church of England”. He hsaid he was not expecting a repeat of the “storm” over his appointment as Bishop of Reading last year, which “frightened the horses”. “I suspect that a good deal of the storm last summer was to do with the timing. It was unfortunate that it happened at the same time as events in New Hampshire,” he said.
The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Christopher Herbert, welcoming Dr John’s appointment, said: “Jeffrey John has a well deserved reputation for being a good, caring pastor. “He is an intelligent, courageous priest who will follow a long line of superb Deans of St Albans and will bring to the Abbey a wide range of gifts. “He is a man of prayer, a preacher and teacher of real authority and grace.”
Christina Rees, a lay member of the General Synod ands patron of Changing Attitude, said: “He will be a very good Dean for St Albans. He is an excellent theologian and has very good pastoral and interpersonal skills. He will be warmly accepted and welcomed.”
Conservative reaction was predictable, but mixed. David Virtue, the conservative evangelical commentator who runs the web site Virtuosity, said: “This is an outrageous appointment. It is a backdoor attempt to make homosexuality mainstream in the Church of England.” Anglican Mainstream, which promotes evangelicalism, said: “The biblical requirement for Christian leaders remains to uphold the Church’s teaching and fashion the life of their household in accordance with that.”
The Times reported the elevation of Dr John as surprising because, in an attempt to prevent further fracture, provinces throughout the Anglican Church had been asked to refrain from controversial actions until the Lambeth Commission, set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury to resolve the crisis, reports at the end of this year. The report said the appointment will further convince African church leaders that the “mother” Church in England is committed to the liberal agenda embraced in North America.