Jeffrey John could become Church of England bishop

Jeffrey John, the openly gay but celibate Dean of St Albans, has been shortlisted to be a diocesan bishop in the Church of England, Christian Today can reveal.

Dr John is one of four men chosen for the shortlist for the next Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. The former Bishop, Nigel Stock, is now Bishop at Lambeth, working closely alongside Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

In 2003 Dr John came close to becoming a suffragan bishop in Reading in the Oxford diocese but under pressure from the previous Archbishop of Canterbury was persuaded to withdraw from the post because of concerns that it would be divisive in an area with a strong conservative evangelical presence.

He was appointed Dean of St Albans in 2004 and two years later he and his partner Rev Grant Holmes entered into a civil partnership.

Dr John was shortlisted last year for Exeter but the vote went narrowly against him, even though his performance at interview was outstanding. His name was also withdrawn previously from the Southwark diocesan appointment process because of opposition from the conservative wing.

The shortlisting of Dr John once again is an indication that the Church is taking seriously its pledge to "listen" to the gay community. Last year the Church dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops, which effectively removed the bar against the elevation of clergy such as Dr John, who are openly gay but live within the guidelines stipulated by the Church, which demands celibacy and, controversially, forbids its gay clergy from marrying their partners.

Worshippers at St Albans Cathedral and other senior insiders agree that Dr John, a powerful, theologically literate preacher as well as a dedicated pastor, has every quality needed to be a bishop. 

The Crown Nominations Commission, which recommends a preferred choice to Downing Street, met last week at Lambeth Palace in London, under the chairmanship of Archbishop Welby.

Dr John was one of just four men who have been called to be interviewed at the next meeting, in mid-October. The members of the commission will cross-examine the four candidates and then, in a secret ballot, will make their first choice and also select a second choice for the Archbishop to take to David Cameron.

The decision to shortlist Dr John came on the eve of crucial talks in the Church to resolve the crisis over homosexuality.

More than 100 men who make up the College of Bishops are meeting today, Tuesday, near Leicester for "conversations" convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury's head of reconciliation, Canon David Porter.

The bishops will meet in groups of three, and will be expected to share their own personal experiences of sexuality, having listened last night to gay, lesbian and transgender clergy and laity tell their own life stories over dinner.

Rev Colin Coward, of Changing Attitude, said the bishops were being asked to do something "extraordinarily difficult". He said: "I hope and pray that they will begin to break through their inhibitions and to have very honest conversations."

Canon Porter said: "For me the ideal outcome will be that people will be able to articulate with a measure of empathy the views of others that they don't agree with.. and that we develop that rapport, that capacity to disagree well. That means that when we get to the process which is beyond the shared conversations when decision will have to be made, the way we approach the making of those decisions is done in a way that honours the fact that we are brothers and sisters of Christ. And that even though we disagree, we are going to do that in a way that reflects that reality as much as the reality of our convictions on these issues."

He said that he hopes people will see the way the conversations are being held and say: "Look at how these Christians love one another because of the way they disagree well."