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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July 2004, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
Backlash over gay cleric move
by Robert Pigott
BBC religious affairs correspondent

Jeffrey John, the gay cleric who last year was forced to step down as Bishop of Reading, has been installed as Dean of St Albans to the resounding applause of many Anglicans, but the deep disquiet of others.

There are signs that the appointment may have prompted traditionalist evangelicals into a new tactic that could prove highly damaging to the Church of England.

Dean of St Albans Jeffrey John
Dr Jeffrey John with Bishop of St Albans Christopher Herbert

It was a service of soaring singing by the choir of a St Albans Abbey Cathedral perfumed by incense. The bells rang and richly-robed clergy uttered stirring words.

Jeffrey John was installed first as Rector, then as Dean, and formally dressed in the cope of St Alban. The 2,000 people present responded to the moment with a full minute of applause.

Division

The Bishop of St Albans, Christopher Herbert, called it a great, courageous and hope-filled day. But the bishop acknowledged that although "there are very, very many who are absolutely thrilled, there are some of my fellow Christians who have been and remain deeply upset, angry and dismayed." He praised Dr John's courage.

I think the controversy concerning his appointment as dean has been just hate-filled and bigoted
Father Martin Hislop
For his part, the new dean thanked people for their support, and said he'd been unable to recognise himself from reports in the news media. He now wanted to concentrate on doing the Church's work.

Dr John's new job does not match the prestige of a bishop. Clergy will not have to swear alliegance to the dean as to the bishop, and his teachings will not carry the same authority.

But it is a high profile role that will allow him to command attention for his view that the Church should welcome gay clergy and bless the relationships of couples of the same sex.

Financial muscle

That has alienated traditionalist evangelicals to such an extent that some are ready to withhold the money they normally contribute to diocesan funds.

Dean of St Albans Jeffrey John
Dr Jeffrey John swears the Oath of Allegiance
The Rev Charles Dobbie of Holy Trinity Church in New Barnet is one of two parishes which have already taken the step.

Like other traditionalists, he believes the Bible outlaws homosexuality, and to argue otherwise is a betrayal of traditional Anglican teaching.

"It seems to us treacherous and hateful to lead people, particularly young people, astray by telling them of things that are not acceptable to God are acceptable to God," says Mr Dobbie. "That does not seem to us to be a loving act."

A year ago, traditionalists formed a lobby group - Anglican Mainstream - that managed to prevent Dr John's ordination as bishop.

It is now offering advice to parishes about how to use their financial muscle to bring pressure to bear on the Church.

'Integrity'

It's no empty threat. Evangelical churches tend to be large, and to give more than average.

One estimate says their income is double the average of other parishes. They may contribute up to 40% of the Church's income from parishes.

But the congregation at the Abbey, who included Jeffrey John's former colleague, Father Martin Hislop, felt the Church should not apologise for his promotion.

Mr Hislop said: "We've worked together on social justice issues and I've found him a man of great integrity, understanding and sensitivity.

"The controversy concerning his appointment as dean has been just hate-filled and bigoted."


SEE ALSO
Parish protests over gay cleric
05 Jun 04 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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