Reform’s Regional Advisers

The term “regional adviser” is hardly one which rolls smoothly off the tongue. However, Reform is more concerned with substance than packaging in taking the step of appointing two of its trustees to fulfil this role from September 1.

The two regional advisers are to be Philip Hacking (Reform’s Chairman) and John Pearce. Both are enormously respected in the evangelical constituency and beyond for their parochial ministries. To put it mildly, they have a lot of street cred.

In the three years which have elapsed since Reform’s formation it has become apparent that ordinary clergy and congregations face a variety of situations in the modern Church of England which threaten or destroy gospel ministry. These Christians, who are simply seeking to obey the call Christ has given them, need advice and support in such circumstances. Experience so far suggests that in these situations the need to be as inclusive as possible is given greater priority over gospel outreach to the nation.

One area of difficulty centres round the ordination of women question. It is very hard now for women who wish to remain deacons to find jobs. Diocesan authorities are by and large most unhelpful when it comes to dealing with this. They wish the problem would go away and are planning for the day when it will.

Then there are the cases of those churches who are seeking new incumbents. They may have passed resolutions A and B, and even C, but the diocese takes little notice of this. The parish representatives desperately need to know how they can stand up to diocesan bullying. Then there are some clergy opposed to the ordination of women who find they are supposed to co-operate with women incumbents, rural deans and archdeacons. The diocese expresses pain and surprise when anyone insists they will not.

There is also the vexed question of money. What does an incumbent do when he is threatened with losing a curate if he does not pay a vastly increased quota in full? Furthermore many evangelicals (and not just those linked with Reform) have been concerned recently over how they can possibly relate to bishops whose stance on homosexuality is contrary to Scripture and profoundly damaging to evangelism. And on the horizon, even though many hope they will retire before it comes up, is the question of women bishops.

Reform is conscious that it must think ahead and plan strategically. It will not assume the worst will happen, but it will prepare for it. At the moment there are few signs that those in senior positions in the Church of England will lift a finger to sort out these situations which are developing. Neither is there any sign that an evangelical bishop against the ordination of women will be appointed. Reform’s repeated requests for a flying bishop have produced nothing. In fact we believe it to be true that no diocesan bishop against the ordination of women has been appointed since early 1993 who was not already in the episcopate in November 1992 (e.g. York and London). So much for two integrities.

These are the reasons why Reform’s regional advisers are necessary, and why Reform has good grounds for acting in this way. The job description for the regional advisers was agreed at the Reform Conference in March. Of course it covers the problem areas outlined above, but it is not intended to be merely defensive. Where posts for women deacons are lacking, then the regional advisers will encourage parishes to create their own network of jobs for them. Where ABM rejects good candidates (whether that be on the grounds of their opposition to the ordination of women or their determined stance on traditional morality) the regional advisers will similarly encourage the creation of training and jobs for them, so that the progress of the gospel is not hindered.

It is also hoped that the experience and wisdom of Philip and John as Vicar and Rector of Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield, and St Anne’s, Limehouse, respectively, may be used to assist clergy facing difficult pastoral situations. No one is claiming that Reform clergy are perfect and we sometimes do foolish things! Our two regional advisers will also look for opportunities to explain and extend the ministry of Reform. Along with the new Reform video, they will be excellent advocates of what Reform really stands for.

It is not surprising that these appointments have caused a few episcopal hearts to miss a beat. The arrival of the regional advisers is an expression of the determination of Reform to protect and encourage orthodox gospel ministry. Reform believes that others who are outside Reform at present will come to be glad this step has been taken, and may well make use of the advisers’ services in due course.

However, the future course of events is really in the hands of the House of Bishops. If the current episcopate is wise it will co-operate with the advisers and will recognise that they are an expression of serious problems which need to be addressed. Nevertheless, many of those in authority persist in the view that existing structures are adequate to contain the stresses created by disobedience to God’s word. Their hope remains that all will calm down in due course.

If this attitude persists then more developments are likely to follow. Reform is thoroughly committed to the ideals of historic Anglicanism. And so the day may come when the two words “regional adviser” will be transformed into one which is more familiar and which rolls of the tongue more smoothly.