Evangelicals defy bishop by holding 'irregular' ordinations
By Jonathan Petre
LONDON (11/4/2005)--The Church of England's civil war over homosexuality escalated yesterday after conservative evangelical clergy staged an "irregular" ordination in defiance of their bishop.
In a revolt that threatens to embroil the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, three men were ordained as deacons in south London by a bishop "parachuted in" from South Africa.
The ordinations were backed by Reform, the evangelical network, whose 600 clergy members are increasingly rejecting the spiritual authority of their bishops in protest at their "unbiblical" stance on gays.
About 30 Reform clergy, a number of whom are General Synod members, attended the ordinations, and the event could lead to similar action across the country.
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, the only person authorised to ordain clergy in his diocese, expressly opposed the service. He said yesterday: "I very much regret this action, which might have serious consequences."
He is expected to strip the Rev Richard Coekin, the cleric behind the event, of his licence to operate in Southwark diocese, and Dr Williams may be forced to preside over an appeal at a public hearing.
The row blew up as the archbishop met the Rt Rev Gene Robinson, whose consecration as Anglicanism's first openly gay bishop has brought the Church to the brink of schism.
Bishop Robinson flew to Britain yesterday for a four-day visit, his first since his consecration in New Hampshire two years ago. In a brief statement after the meeting, Lambeth Palace said it had been "friendly but candid", and had ended with prayer.
The statement added: "The encounter came as part of the archbishop's commitment to listening to all concerned in the current challenges facing the Anglican Communion."
Bishop Robinson is due to speak at several events, including a service at St Martin-in-the-Fields tomorrow.
Mr Coekin, the minister of Dundonald church in Wimbledon, said that the ordinations were not timed to coincide with Bishop Robinson's visit, but the gay bishop symbolised liberal trends in the Church.
He said that he and many other evangelicals were furious with the guidance produced by the House of Bishops earlier this year on civil partnerships.
The guidance said that gay clergy could enter into the partnerships, but only if they first assured their bishops that they would abstain from sex.
But Mr Coekin said that it effectively gave lay Christians carte blanche to enter the partnerships, and prevented clergy such as him from challenging their lifestyles.
"Some bishops in the Church of England think they can re-invent the Christian faith by tearing difficult pages out of the Bible in the name of political correctness and their latest statement on civil partnerships is the last straw," he said.
"Together with many evangelical clergy from across this diocese and the nation we have resorted to this action for the needs of the churches.
"It also expresses our unity with the many orthodox Bible-believing Anglicans across the world who are outraged at the way things are headed in England. Sadly, we are having to distance ourselves from the Bishop of Southwark."
Mr Coekin said that the three new clergy were needed because his "church plant" congregations had grown hugely in size but the bishop, with whom his relations had been poor for years, had refused to ordain them himself.
The ordinations were carried out on Wednesday night in a church in Surbiton, south London, by Bishop Martin Morrison of the Church of England in South Africa. The bishop's orders are considered valid in the Church of England although his Church is not "in communion" with it, so the status of the new deacons is unclear.
Mr Coekin said that the new clergy, Andy Fenton, Richard Perkins and Loots Lambrechts, a South African, will receive their salaries from a special trust fund rather than the diocese.
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