St Helen's Bishopgate hints it will leave Church of England unless next Bishop of London is conservative on sex
One of London's largest Anglican churches is hinting it will walk away from the Church of England if the next Bishop of London is not conservative on sexuality.
William Taylor, Rector at St Helen's Bishopgate, said his first question to the new Bishop of London, who is yet to be announced, will be to ask whether they are prepared to 'declare as sin what God calls sin' and to summon them 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.
St Helen's Bishopgate is one of the biggest and most influential evangelical churches in the country, attracting nearly 2,000 people to its four Sunday services each week. Its associate rector, Charles Skrine, is on the panel who will nominate the next Bishop of London and he is also a member of the Church's ruling general synod.
Taylor said the previous Bishop of London, Richard Chartres', willingness to describe sexual relationships outside marriage between one man and one woman as sinful meant St Helen's could work with other Anglican churches around London.
Quoting a passage in the Bible which instructs Christians 'to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned' and to 'keep away from them', Taylor said there was a necessary 'avoidance' of Christians who accept 'what the Bible calls sexual immorality'.
He told his congregation there was a group in the CofE 'denying the teaching of the Bible on marriage', an apparent reference to pro gay marriage activists.
'We now wait to see what the new Bishop of London's views are,' he said in a sermon last week.
'My first question to him or her will be: "Are you prepared to openly to declare as sin what God calls sin and to summon all people to repentance and to do so publicly?"
'If the answer is "no" then there is an "unavoidable avoidance" for us all.' This is an apparent reference to the necessity of the church distancing itself from its bishop.
Christian Today has approached St Helen's Bishopgate for comment and clarification but they declined to comment.
The final interviews for the new Bishop of London concluded last week. The panel, whose deliberations are secret, will now hand the suggested name to Downing Street and, if approved, the announcement will be made in January.
Taylor went on to criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury for asking Church of England parishes with different views on sexuality to 'walk together', saying that 'flatly contradicts' the Bible.
'For that reason I have made perfectly plain both in private conversations and in formal meetings with the current acting Bishop in London that from now on as a church in all our relationships in this diocese we can no longer walk together with those who take that position [affirming of gay relationships].'
He added: 'At this stage I don't think it is necessary for us to leave the Church of England – we are not the divisive ones, we are not the ones who have walked away.'
It comes after St Helen's withdrew itself from relations with its immediate Anglican neighbours last week. In a letter to the area dean in the City of London, Rev Oliver Ross, Taylor cited 'the widely publicised views held by certain members of the deanery chapter' as reasons for the split.
'We (the clergy, wardens and PCC of St Helen's) no longer consider these church leaders who have ceased to 'believe and uphold the Christian faith Church of England has received it' to be 'walking together' with us in any meaningful partnership', he said without naming which churches he was particularly concerned about.
However Rev Bertrand Olivier, the openly gay vicar of All Hallows by the Tower which is half a mile from St Helen's, told Christian Today he was 'not surprised' by the decision.
While the decision will likely only have minor local ramifications, Taylor's threat over the new Bishop of London will prompt fears St Helen's could leave the wider Church of England in the near future.
It comes as tensions over sexuality in the Church are escalating with Anglican Mission in England – a rival Anglican movement to the CofE – ordained its own clergy for the first time last week.
Taylor was at the ordination service in east London last Thursday night and AMiE could provide a home for parishes who want to keep to an Anglican model of church but dislike what they see as the CofE's growing tolerance towards gay relationships.