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On the appointment of senior leaders in the Church of England

On the appointment of senior leaders in the Church of England

By Ian Paul
January 20, 2022

On 6th January, it was announced that Stephen Knott, who has been working as part of the Lambeth Palace team, was appointed to be Archbishops' Secretary for Appointments in succession to Caroline Boddington. The role has attracted attention in the past, since Caroline developed the role so that it had significant control over the process of selecting clergy to be part of the (also controversial) senior leader training programme, which then fed into the selection of bishops. Questions were raised about how so much influence over the future leadership of the Church accrued to one (lay) position, and there was also a question of conflict of interest since Caroline is married to the former Bishop of Derby. At her farewell in General Synod in November 2021, Justin Welby described her as 'the most powerful person in the Church of England.' Apparently, this was intended to be a joke, but it was sufficiently close to the truth that only half the room laughed.

The role has in fact been changed, with a key part of the involvement in senior leadership training being moved across to Ministry Division--but that has not been mentioned in any of the announcements about the post.

By all accounts, Stephen Knott has been a competent and valued member of the team at Lambeth. But his appointment is controversial, as last year he entered a same-sex marriage with his partner of 20 years, the Governor of Edinburgh Castle, Major General Alastair Bruce of Crionaich, OBE, and did so in a service of the Scottish Episcopal Church conducted by the Bishop of Edinburgh. Discussing particular individuals appointed to specific roles presents a challenge, since it can easily look as though an individual is being singled out--yet there are some very significant questions of process, policy, and institutional integrity which are raised by this--and have been raised in several places.

Synod member Luke Appleton highlighted some of the issues the day after the appointment was announced:

While I don't think anyone wishes to intrude or cast judgement on Knott's private life or his marriage, to have had such a public wedding overseen by a figure as senior as the Bishop of Edinburgh is probably the greatest endorsement of a marriage canon change one could gain.

Considering the contention and controversy of the current discussions and the passion held on all sides of the discussion, how can Knott remain impartial on something that will understandably be so significant to him?

Going forward, every appointment will be scrutinized increasingly closely. I have no reason to doubt Knott is a person of integrity, and my hope would be that he would not politicize the appointment process. However having made such a public endorsement of one side and being a known friend of campaigners on that side of the debate surely raises some very serious questions. It is noteworthy that a number of campaigners for liberalization have rejoiced at the news declaring it a 'victory' for revisionism and a major step forward. If that is true and this role has been politicized then it must be subject to higher levels of accountability.

In a letter to the Church Times last week, another Synod member Rebecca Chapman asked questions about the transparency of the process of this appointment:

I do not recall seeing this post advertised in the Church Times or elsewhere. It appears to have been made available only internally and briefly. The contrast between this and the open and transparent recruitment process for the new Anglican Communion Office Secretary General, which was advertised over a period of weeks for prayerful consideration and sharing widely, is marked...

I am a recently elected member of the General Synod Appointments Committee, which has guidelines to ensure that "the procedure to be followed should be clear and known." Why has the person responsible for our most senior clerical appointments been chosen through such an unclear and unknown process? Is this the standard now for church appointments?

David Baker, writing in Christian Today, draws these issues together in his characteristically lively way:

This is a vital role. The appointment has been given to someone living in breach of Church of England teaching. The whole subject is hugely controversial. As has been said in various place in online discussions, it would have been perfectly possible, surely, to have stated a genuine occupational requirement for the person in this post to be living according to the teaching of the Church of England.

While Mr Knott may no doubt consciously seek to be impartial, it is hard to see him being instrumental in appointing, for example, any conservative evangelicals as diocesan and suffragan bishops -- though if he does facilitate that long overdue mythical "mutual flourishing," it will be a good sign. Furthermore, in New Testament terms, what is needed is not someone who is "impartial" -- but someone who is strongly partial to Biblical truth and strongly opposed to error...

And finally -- there is a whole process underway in the Church of England called "Living in Love and Faith" (LLF) which is supposed to facilitate discussion about issues around sexuality and so on. That process is, as yet, far from complete. It feels to many orthodox clergy and believers in the C of E that having got so far with that -- and having additionally slogged their guts out through two years of a pandemic -- the Archbishops are not only jumping the gun when it comes to LLF and acting as if official church teaching has already been changed, but are blowing a mitred episcopal raspberry to all those (a.k.a. the majority of the global Anglican Communion) taking an orthodox position. No wonder liberal revisionists have cheered the appointment.

Ed Shaw, who is pastor of Emmanuel City Centre church in Bristol, and director of Living Out, offers a different kind of personal response, which I offer here as an important perspective on the issues that this appointment raises.

The Church of England keeps asking its gay members to go against their convictions and consciences.

Her most recent victim is the new Archbishops' Appointments Adviser Stephen Knott. He is a gay man who has married his partner in another member church of the Anglican Communion, the Scottish Episcopal Church. He clearly disagrees with the Church of England's apostolic teaching that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman: he has signaled that in what is surely the most public and permanent way possible. And yet the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have asked him to take charge of the process of appointing the Church of England's most senior leaders (deans, bishops, and archbishops) who are all duty bound to teach that he cannot be married in the sight of God. How can they have asked him to do something that must be so troubling to his convictions and conscience?

Perhaps he feels, or they have indicated, that this situation won't be for that long. That soon, post Living in Love and Faith, he will be able to help appoint people who will be able to "bless" his same-sex marriage (indicate the Church of England's half-hearted acceptance of it), or even allow people like him to get married as Anglicans south of the border too. If so, it is my convictions and conscience that the Church of England is going to trample on next -- I am a gay Anglican who lives in the light of historic teaching that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As a result, I am single and celibate, in the reassuring knowledge that this is what my church has consistently asked of people like me. Am I soon to be told that, somehow, we've got it wrong for centuries? At what cost to me and my many spiritual forebears? I'm increasingly uncertain as to whether that matters to the archbishops when they appoint someone like Stephen Knott to such a senior and influential position.

Some will say that neither Stephen Knott nor myself need to worry too much because neither of us are clergy and it is only the ordained, and not lay officeholders, in the Church of England, who need to live in the light of the Church's official teaching on marriage. This is an idea that has gained traction in recent years as part of an uneasy unofficial settlement that has kept liberals and traditionalists together. The Church of England's victims this time have been gay clergy who have been disciplined when they have, like Stephen Knott, entered into a same-sex marriage (celibate civil partnerships are permitted). He will now, in theory, be partly responsible for making sure that no ordained man or woman in his position gains preferment in the Church of England -- unless his appointment signals a change in the rules. How he can be asked to do this beggars belief, how gay clergy can put up with one rule for him and another for them also strains too many people's convictions and consciences once again. He, I, may not be ordained but we are both in positions of authority in the Church of England and so surely need to be living in the light of her teaching in all areas of faith and conduct?

What is the solution to this personal struggle for so many of us? Stephen Knott and his partner have found it -- they got married in a church that is happy to marry two men. Surely for conviction and consciences sake that is where they should be staying, and where he should be working? Others like them, Anglican men and women with deep convictions that two men or two women can get married, with consciences that scream out to them when that is not allowed, should be following them. Perhaps the Church of England could help them by enabling a new entity where this can be allowed for those whose convictions and consciences demand it, whilst continuing to care for people like me who love and follow the teachings that a majority of Anglicans down the centuries, across the planet, have always believed?

It is more than about time the Church of England stopped its gay members from going against their convictions and consciences.


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