Anglican clergy claim Bishop of Chelmsford told them to leave C of E – despite his denials

The Rev John Parker(Photo: Christian Concern)

The Bishop of Chelmsford told "more than 30" clergy that if they didn't agree with his diocese's approach to sexuality they could quit the Church of England, it was claimed today.

In a new statement, they dispute a recent assertion in a letter by the Bishop, Stephen Cottrell, that he had never told Rev John Parker – who resigned as the governor of a Church of England primary school in the Diocese of Chelmsford over its handling of a child's transition – that he could leave the denomination.

And they say that Chelmsford Diocese is fostering a "growing climate of intolerance" towards clergy who take an orthodox position on matters of sexuality and other issues.

Representatives of evangelical clergy from the diocese met on Wednesday to discuss, among other matters, Bishop Cottrell's letter to clergy earlier this month.

In that letter, in response to claims by John Parker that he was told he could quit the denomination, Bishop Cottrell said he "did not, as has been claimed, ask or imply that he should leave the Church of England on account of his views on the matter in question, or that he was not welcome."

He added: "It is important to state these things not to further exacerbate the issue, but to reassure you whatever your views on these issues, that the Diocese of Chelmsford has not forced a priest from office." 

But a spokesman for the evangelical clergy, Rev Kieran Bush, Vicar of St John's, Walthamstow, said: "We noticed it was carefully worded. It gave the impression that the Bishop had never suggested that John Parker should leave the Church of England.

"The truth is that Stephen Cottrell has, on more than one occasion, told clergy, including John Parker, that if we disagree with the approach the Diocese is taking on matters of human sexuality we should follow our consciences and leave. There were more than thirty clergy at one of the meetings."

The statement from the clergy – which went public today on the Church Society website – adds that it was after a smaller meeting, in September 2018, that Rev Parker and another colleague felt compelled to break fellowship with the bishop.

READ MORE: Bishop of Chelmsford denies suggesting vicar could leave Church of England over transgender views

Another local member of the clergy, Rev Mark Holdaway, Rector of St Michael's Kirby-le-Soken with All Saints, Great Holland, said: "We are all concerned about the growing climate of intolerance and the number of clergy who are finding their position in the Church of England increasingly untenable."

Rev Parker had previously claimed: "The Diocese of Chelmsford was complicit in preventing any discussion of the wider issues and imposed the views and strategy of the lobby group Mermaids onto the school. This situation, in its entire disregard for the Christian children and parents in the school, and those of other faiths and philosophies, presented the clearest possible instance of what Bishop Stephen had previously told me – that my Biblical views on sexuality were not welcome in the Church of England and that I 'could leave'."

READ MORE: 'I'm at a loss to know where this comes from' - bishop responds to transgender accusations

The bishop will now face fresh pressure to give a public account of his dealings with Rev Parker and other clergy. It has even been suggested by some that the bishop should face a clergy disciplinary measure as more facts about his handling of the situation have emerged into the public domain.

Evangelicals in the Church of England have also claimed that the Bishop of Chelmsford and some of his colleagues have consistently tried to turn matters of sexual and transgender theology and ideology into purely 'pastoral' issues, thus avoiding the need to engage with precise theological questions being raised by clergy.

Some of the controversy in Chelmsford Diocese has centred round the Mermaids transgender lobby group. Almost 5,000 people have signed a new petition online calling for the Mermaids to be stopped from providing training in schools and other public services.

The bishop responded to the latest allegations on Twitter, denying that he encouraged traditionalist clergy to leave the Church of England.

"1. The diocese has no view on human sexuality that is not the view of the Church of England," he said. 

"2. There is a world of difference between acknowledging that,sadly, conscience may lead any of us - me included- to move on & suggesting people should leave. I have never said the latter."