Favourite for new Bishop of London backed church thanksgiving services for same-sex couples

A bishop who called for celebration services for same-sex couples is favourite to be named the next Bishop of London in the coming days, Christian Today can reveal.

The current Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, is rated 2/1 to take the third most senior post in the Church of England after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Stephen Cottrell is a member of the House of Lords in his current role as Bishop of Chelmsford.Parliamentlive.tv

The latest odds from William Hill put Bishop Cottrell, from the CofE's Anglo-Catholic wing, ahead of more evangelical candidates such as the current bishops of Nottingham and Kensington and suggest the possibility of a woman being appointed is highly unlikely. 

If the appointment of Bishop Cottrell goes ahead it could cause major tensions in the diverse diocese with a number of powerful conservative parishes opposed to both women's ordination and gay relationships.

Cottrell called for thanksgiving services for gay couples earlier this year, warning the church was seen an 'immoral' because of its opposition to gay marriage. Some conservative parishes in his diocese called for him to 'repent' in protest and later declared 'no confidence' in both him and the Archbishop of Canterbury over the issue.

Richard Chartres, the former Bishop of London and now a life peer in the House of Lords, decided not to ordain any priests in an attempt to hold together a divided area where to ordain women would infuriate conservative parishes opposed to female ordination and to ordain men but not women would antagonise the rest. 

As such all ordinations under Chartres were carried out by his junior suffragen bishops in London.

But Cottrell would probably represent a break with this practice after speaking strongly in favour of women's ordination. He previously argued 'it would look terrible in the eyes of the world [and] would hold back our mission' if women continued to be barred from the highest offices in the Church.

However it is Cottrell's support for thanksgiving services for same-sex couples that would cause the most conflict in London. One influential parish, St Helen's Bishopgate, has already threatened to split from the Church of England if the new Bishop of London is not conservative on sexuality.

William Hill

Christian Today broke the story on Monday that the Rector William Taylor, who leads one of the largest Anglican churches in the country, told his congregation the first question he would ask the new bishop would be whether they are prepared to 'declare as sin what God calls sin' and to summon same-sex couples to repentance.

If the new bishop refuses to do so publicly, Taylor said he will have no choice but to distance his parish from the Church of England.

But campaigners for change in the CofE would be delighted to have such a powerful supporter were Cottrell to be appointed.

Jayne Ozanne, a member of the Church's ruling general synod, told Christian Today: 'There are various strong candidates for the position of the Bishop of London, but I personally would be delighted if Bishop Stephen Cottrell was appointed to this pivotal role within the Church.

'I know how passionate he is to energise the whole people of God in mission and evangelism, and have personally learnt much from him. His pastoral heart has ensured that all within his diocese have felt cherished and heard, and I particularly applaud his courage in speaking out on the need to formally recognise and celebrate LGBTI relationships.'

The current Bishop of Nottingham, Paul Williams, is second favourite at 3/1 and would be the chosen candidate of many evangelicals. Similar in style and approach to Justin Welby, Williams is a strong supporter of women bishops but is conservative on sexuality. 

Another possibility is the current Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, who is tipped as a rising star and is widely respected for his role supporting the bereaved families after the Grenfell Tower fire this summer. His chances have risen sharply from 10/1 in February to 5/1 now but sources tell Christian Today it is unlikely he will appointed due to his lack of experience, having only been made a suffragen bishop in 2015.

The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, speaking outside St Paul's Cathedral following the memorial service for Grenfell Tower victims.Harry Farley

It is thought even more unlikely a woman will be given the role despite suggestions that Theresa May, herself the daughter of a CofE vicar and who will make the final announcement, would push for a woman.

Rachel Treweek, the current Bishop of Gloucester and the first woman to be appointed a senior diocesan bishop, was placed at 5/1 according to William Hill, behind Nick Baines, the current Bishop of Leeds.

Senior bishops met last week at Lambeth Palace and made 'renewed commitments' to 'continue to strengthen the inclusion and representation of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clergy at all levels of leadership within the church'.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the current chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the only BAME candidate in the top eight favourites is ranked as a 9/1 outsider.

Christine Hardman, the Bishop of Newcastle and the only other woman among the favourites, is considered even more unlikely at 16/1.

William Hill are closing their bets on Friday evening and Christian Today understands Number 10 plans to make the announcement on Monday morning.