Richard Coekin writes in to Canterbury

you may or may not be aware of the recent events in Southwark diocese in the Church of England. Richard Coekin, the minister who’s license has been revoked by the Bishop of Southwark, has written to Canterbury in appeal. Here below follows the full text of his letter. Don’t just pass this by, this is a very important letter for anyone remotely interested in Anglican affairs. It demonstrates quite clearly both the unscriptural position of the bishop and, ironically, his uncanonical behaviour. Original link:

The Church Office, 577 Kingston Road, Raynes Park, London SW20 8YA   Tel: 020 8545 2734 

18th November 2005

The Most Revd the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury,
Lambeth Palace,

Dear Archbishop,

You are aware through correspondence (copied to you) of the events of recent weeks in this Diocese and of the removal of my licence by the Bishop of Southwark. Enclosed, for your information, is my letter to the Bishop of Southwark that I sent on 3 November. This was written after he wrote to me threatening to remove my licence. I trust this enclosed letter speaks for itself. Naturally I am concerned that when he then wrote to me on 7 November a letter (copied to you and to others) revoking my licence, he made no attempt to answer any of the substantial points made in my letter of 3 November. Furthermore, he has also written to all the clergy of the diocese on 8 November and publicly seen fit to attack my reputation. As you are aware, in his letter of 7 November he said:

“Your letters make it quite clear that you no longer accept my Episcopal authority and you have acted, erroneously, as though you did not require the licence or authority of a Church of England bishop. In these circumstances I have no option but to summarily revoke your licence as Assistant Minister of the Proprietary Chapel of Emmanuel Wimbledon. If you wish, I believe that you have twenty-eight days from the receipt of this letter to appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

The Bishop and I clearly disagree on theological matters particularly relating to the homosexual agenda, with the Bishops’ Statement on Civil Partnerships being a last straw. You may well personally agree with his position. But my submission is that the doctrine of the Church of England, at law, clearly supports the traditional and, of course, biblical understanding of these matters as you can see from my letter of 3 November. However, I did not want to go down the “juridical” route that the Bishop of Southwark is now taking by removing my licence; for this is the way to formalized schism. Rather, we believed that we needed to admit “impairment of communion” as dealt with by the Eames Commission Report of 1994 and a situation that “can be defended as a necessary and strictly extraordinary anomaly in preference to schism”:

“it is clear that a juridical notion of simply being ‘in communion’ or ‘out of communion’ with another church has been shown to be insufficient … at the same time, integrity prompts the recognition that … at the level of ecclesial communion … there is an actual diminishment of the degree of communion … The Lambeth Conference terminology of ‘impairment’ may be used or other language such as ‘restricted’ or ‘incomplete communion’ may be preferred. In either case, communion is less full than it was” (§ 56 – 57).

By revoking my licence the Bishop of Southwark has followed the juridical and schismatical route of leaving us either “in communion” or “out of communion.” He has written in his letter to the clergy of 8 November that “we do not do schism in the Diocese of Southwark”. But that precisely is what he is doing. We – myself and the many sharing my views – have always talked about an “impairment of communion” and a “temporary” one at that. Is it right for the Bishop to formalize schism in this way?

Nor have we ever refused canonical recognition to the diocesan bishop. We simply point out that his authority is not absolute but limited by canon. The Bishop of Southwark seems not to recognise these distinctions and what they mean. We who are in impaired communion over fundamental doctrine cannot for the time being accept the spiritual authority of our diocesan Bishop, but we accept his temporal authority – to take one example, Faculty Jurisdiction. Such impairment of communion, of course, means that the ordinations I shared in organizing had to be provided by another bishop, in this case a bishop of the Church of England in South Africa (CESA) and, therefore, irregularly. However, I have never questioned the legality of the Bishop of Southwark’s Episcopal authority operating canonically. I have always recognised that he is the properly consecrated Bishop of Southwark which is why I have been writing to him.

Indeed he is, surely, acting irregularly under the important canon of doctrine, Canon C 18.1 which lays upon him the duty “to teach and uphold sound and wholesome doctrine and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions.” As I explained in my letter of 3 November, “wholesome doctrine” is defined in the Church of England quite unambiguously by the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974 §5 (1):

“the doctrine of the Church of England shall be construed in accordance with the statement concerning that doctrine contained in the Canons of the Church of England [Canon A 5], which statement is in the following terms: ‘The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.’”

And the scriptural doctrine is clearly stated by the House of Bishops’ in their report Issues in Human Sexuality:

“There is … in Scripture an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Sexual activity of any kind outside marriage comes to be seen as sinful, and homosexual practice as especially dishonourable” (§2.29).

We are, therefore, in impaired communion with the Bishop on these grounds and do not believe this gives him reason to revoke my licence.

Moreover, the 1974 Doctrine Measure also imposes the doctrinal requirements of the 1662 Ordinal on all clergy. So I, too, have a duty to “banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word” (Ordering of Priests) – in this case the erroneous doctrines regarding the homosexual agenda and coming from the Bishop of Southwark. As the Canon of Scripture is the “canon of canons”; and as the canons have to be interpreted as a whole with, therefore, the doctrinal canons having precedence over the canons of order, I submit that the Bishop of Southwark is wrong to put the canons of order before the canons of doctrine in revoking my licence. Furthermore, statute law takes precedence over canon law, and the statute on doctrine – Worship and Doctrine (Church of England) Measure 1974 (see above) – gives Canon A 5 (the Scriptural definition of doctrine) statute status. If that is so, Canon C 17.2 seems to require the archbishop of the province “to correct and supply the defects of other bishops.” Nor can it be said that this only refers to pathological defects (mental or physical). It must also refer to doctrinal defects or defects of canonical interpretation. Nor are my theological views those of a minority. I understand from the Press that many of the Anglican Primates representing a vast majority of the Anglican Communion agree with me.

It needs to be recognized that if the removal of my licence is sustained then mine has been removed while other clergy, whose teaching is far removed from the 39 Articles to which I still hold, still hold theirs. Nor have I been guilty of any gross immorality. But there are, ironically, those in this diocese who are openly living in what has been declared by Issues in Human Sexuality and Lambeth Resolution 1.10 to be a lifestyle contrary to the Scriptures. Yet they are still in possession of their licences. How is it just or canonical or scriptural that mine has been removed?

In his letter to me of 7 November the Bishop of Southwark has stated that I have “acted erroneously, as though you did not require the licence or authority of a Church of England bishop”. This is not true. I have always recognised the need of the Bishop’s licence to exercise regular Church of England ministry in his Diocese. This is why I am concerned now to contest its removal. All I have done is to support and help organise an event of which the Bishop disapproved. But I did so along with many other clergy from this Diocese; there were more than thirty clergy, representing many “mainstream” evangelical networks, involved in the ordination; and over a hundred Anglican clergy, quickly, added their names to the web-site resolution supporting the ordination. It is difficult to see why I have been particularly singled out for the removal of my licence. The Bishop has previously disapproved of some of our church-planting efforts (even though the only plant to be in a parish without the parish priest’s permission was planned in consultation with, and the approval of, the then suffragan bishop, and, when meeting surprising reaction from the huge church in the next parish, was immediately moved and eventually refashioned as a free church in which I do not exercise presbyteral ministry. It should also be recognized that in other situations where planting proposals have met with disapproval we have abandoned them). It has to be said that the over-reaction of some of the clergy is exactly what I thought Mission-shaped Church was intended to address. Furthermore a delegation of Evangelical leaders from this Diocese went to the Bishop to ask him to recognise our plants, ordain our staff and once again consider our applicants for training – but without success. It surely would be wrong for me to be having my licence removed because of these church plants in years gone by. And it certainly must be wrong for the Bishop to remove my licence because, as many are suggesting, he does not like “Mainstream” evangelicals (using the typology of Peter Brierley in The Tide is Running Out (p 151) who on statistics of Anglican evangelical Sunday church attendance spoke of “Broad,” “Mainstream” and “Charismatic” evangelicals of which the “Mainstream” are generally thriving, vibrant and growing as are our own congregations, while “Broad” evangelical churches decline. I fear that the Bishop of Southwark listens to some such “Broad” evangelicals who in one or two cases have rather bitterly opposed church planting proposals. This greatly saddens me but, of course, should not lead to the removal of my licence).

The Bishop refers in his letter of 7 November that revoked my licence to the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967 and refers to that measure in his letter of 8 November to all the clergy of the Diocese. Having read the Measure again I believe, and am advised, that he is seriously mistaken in his attempt to apply it to me. There are two reasons.

First, para 4 (3) declares that no “overseas bishop” is permitted to perform any Episcopal functions in a diocese in the province of Canterbury without the permission of the diocesan bishop or Archbishop. But para 6 (1) specifically defines “overseas bishop” as “a bishop of the Church of England or a Church in Communion with the Church of England”. Since CESA is not in communion with the Church of England, a bishop of CESA is by definition beyond the remit of this measure. It is, therefore, difficult to see how either a CESA bishop or I or any of the other clergy involved in the ordination itself have supported anything improper. Being CESA ordinations, the new deacons are valid Anglican deacons but not ordained in the Church of England. We resorted to CESA ordinations precisely to keep these fine young men’s ministries within the Anglican tradition. But neither we nor they have ever knowingly claimed that they are exercising authorised Church of England ministry in this Diocese. They could not do that without the Bishop’s licence. But they are properly ordained under the provisions of CESA. Their ordinations are valid and their orders are recognised as valid under Canon C 8.5(c) even though they are not in communion with the Church of England. It has been suggested that the Bishop of Southwark might be more generously glad that a way has been found for these men to be validly ordained within the Anglican tradition without requiring him to do something he felt unable to do. (Nor has anything improper been organized from the point of view of basic doctrine. There is a significant difference between parishes that are de facto (if not de iure) “in communion” with a Church like the Church of England in South Africa and parishes that choose to be “in communion” with ECUSA including (and especially) New Hampshire, where Gene Robinson is the diocesan Bishop. The issue is adherence to Canon A 5 (see above) and a Church’s commitment to Anglican doctrine, hence the importance of the Province of Nigeria’s new definition of the Anglican Communion being, basically, the confession of Canon A 5. Such a definition includes CESA but excludes much of ECUSA and especially the majority in New Hampshire.)

Secondly, with regard to the ordinations on 2 November, I am not clear on what grounds I personally am felt to be uncanonical (since I neither hosted nor took part in the ordination itself and over 30 other clergy were present in support as I was). I know the Bishop of Southwark did not want me to organise such an event. But we are in impaired communion with him because of his refusal to make affirmations on basic principles of sexual morality and his refusal to distance himself from the Bishops’ Statement on Civil Partnerships and are in need of Episcopal ministry. I made it clear on a number of occasions that these men needed ordaining. So I was driven to advise this irregular action, first, because of the Bishop’s persistent refusal of requests by a number of Evangelical clergy to have these men ordained and, eventually, by the impaired communion brought upon us by our dispute over the Statement on Civil Partnerships. However, there is no canon that prevents me giving encouragement to other clergy who believe God has called them positively to teach the Bible and negatively to “banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word” (1662 Ordinal). Nor can my seriously taken oath of obedience to the Bishop in “all things lawful and honest” mean that my licence can be removed for fulfilling my duty under the 1974 Worship and Doctrine Measure and following the plain reading of Scripture. If my licence is being removed because the Bishop disagrees with my reading of Scripture, then he is, surely, at variance with the majority of Anglicans world-wide; with Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6; and with Canons A 5 and C 18.1. I am still not clear of any legitimate grounds upon which my licence has been removed.

Impairment of communion and irregular ordinations are, I believe, nothing new in the Church of England. It must be worth recalling that before World War II Anglo-Catholic clergy could not accept the spiritual authority of the theologically liberal Bishop of Birmingham, Bishop Barnes (see Alec Vidler, Scenes from a Clerical Life pp 62-67). After the war Evangelicals also refused to allow him into their churches (Bishop Howell Davies, who is still alive and irregularly ordained a presbyter in York for Newcastle at the end of the 90’s, was a curate in Birmingham at the time). Much earlier, and significantly, the entire Anglican Communion in its modern form began with “irregular ordinations”. At the beginning of the CMS (founded in 1799) there were irregular ordinations organized by the great Charles Simeon of Holy Trinity, Cambridge. These ordinations were opposed by bishops in the church who refused to ordain men to go overseas. As evangelicals they were objected to on doctrinal grounds: they were called “Calvinists”. But the imperatives of the gospel meant that men had to be ordained. So Charles Simeon helped organize the first ordinations in 1813. Fortunately there were a few bishops who broke ranks and were willing to act irregularly. Bishop Ryder (Bishop of Gloucester, then of Lichfield and Coventry) and Bishop Bathurst (Bishop of Norwich) were prepared to ordain “men at the [CMS] committee’s request, accepting as a title the committee’s agreement to employ them” (Stock, History of CMS, vol. 1, p 245). Even the Archbishop of York ordained men in this way on two or three occasions. Then in 1819 came an Act of Parliament that enabled these irregularities to be sorted out with the Bishop of London having responsibility for ordaining men, or seeing that they were ordained, for the colonies. Because we are committed to the Church of England as our evangelical forefathers were, we do not want schism. Rather we want reform as they did. Hence we deplore the action of the Bishop of Southwark.

You will be aware that we are inundated with messages of support from Evangelicals across the country (and the world). The removal of my licence is being regarded as an attempt by the Bishop of Southwark to stifle a voice of protest at what the Global South Bishops termed “unscriptural innovations”. I understand that the Bishop has himself in the context of debating terrorism legislation, defended freedom of speech and the need to address underlying causes. I do not think he has yet followed his own good advice in my case. The reinstatement of my licence would remove the impression that the Bishop is simply crushing dissent from a very questionable Bishops’ Statement on Civil Partnerships. I, of course, apologise if I have brought any unwarranted trouble. I am deeply grieved by the bitterness expressed in some quarters. But I hope that observers, Christian and otherwise, will recognise a spirit of integrity rather than any wish to be unloving or divisive. I must keep reminding people that the homosexuals who come to our churches greatly appreciate the care and welcome they receive and have encouraged me in these actions. This division has not been caused by me but by the Bishops’ Statement on Civil Partnerships that follows the consecration of Bishop Robinson and, as recognised by the Third Trumpet from the South, originates from “the current crisis provoked by North American Intransigence” which is “a symptom of a deeper problem, which is the diminution of the authority of Holy Scripture”. These are the reasons for my appeal against the Bishop of Southwark’s decision to remove my licence. So I request you to advise the Bishop of Southwark to reverse his decision. In my view, the removal of my licence inevitably contributes to the wrong sort of division in the church. I am not and have never been supportive of “anarchy” as I understand the Bishop has claimed recently, but wish to see the rule of the Scriptures, and therefore the historic doctrine of the Church of England, defended and proclaimed with fresh confidence.

Yours sincerely


Rev. Richard Coekin

Attachments: Letter to the Bishop of Southwark, 3rd Nov 2005

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. detroitfather

    That is a good letter. I’m adding this post to my LJ Memories.
    Thanks for posting it.

  2. prester_scott

    I’m afraid it is much ado about nothing. The heretics don’t respect any law unless it serves their purposes.

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