A Conversation

Two archdeacons work together in a unique arrangement

As Archdeacon for the Two Cities and Archdeacon of London respectively, Rosemary Lain-Priestley and Luke Miller serve the parishes of the Two Cities Episcopal Area of the Diocese of London as one archdeaconry with two archdeacons. They differ both in their stance on the ordination of women and in wider church tradition, but attempt to live out the Five Guiding Principles in their work. In October 2017 they held a public conversation at an open meeting of the deanery synod of the City of London Deanery.

RLP: One of the reasons why it works is that there’s never been an elephant in the room: we have always been completely honest with one another that we disagree on many things.

LJM: Yes, having said separately to each of us that he wanted to set up an arrangement to try to model something for the church locally and nationally, Richard Chartres introduced us to one another at a dinner, of all things for the Lutheran Bishop of Berlin. I think we both worked out why we had been placed together!

RLP: We found we got on fine personally, and that is important as we need mutual respect, and have a good working relationship. But we certainly disagree about things!  

LJM: A lot of the time we’ve been able just to ‘know’ where difficulties are likely to be, but we have also carved out time to keep things explicit. Sometimes we just need to go and have a coffee, because we need to avoid coming to the ‘crunch’ by talking about things when they are only at ‘the pinch.’

RLP: Yes, both between ourselves and with others we have had to be clear about what is and is not okay for each of us. For instance that you can be ‘in the room’ and even preach when I celebrate and that you don’t have a problem with me preaching when you are saying mass. And we went together to the Archbishops’ Appointments Advisers in the context of the Vacancy in See and did our disagreeing about our hopes and fears for the new Bishop of London in front of each other.

LJM: I think in all this what we try to find is a model in which both of us do everything that we can do without crossing red lines, which may be ours, or other peoples’! So I present candidates at ordinations of deacons and priests whichever their sex (recognising that you might say ‘whatever their gender’) and we do not separate out the men and women amongst the ordination candidates when we meet with them formally.

RLP: Nor have we separated out our engagement with parishes: I’ve done triennial visitations in both conservative evangelical and traditional catholic parishes and presented candidates for ordination to the priesthood in a traditional catholic parish, and you’ve inducted and licensed women in parishes, exercising the juridical role of the archdeacon even while keeping a sacramental boundary.

LJM: I think we have occasionally surprised people around us, and not only those who have made assumptions about what we will do. It seems both of us have found that our ‘constituencies’ have sometimes been not a little shocked by what we’ve done. And sometimes we’ve forgotten, because it has started to become easy for us, that it can be difficult for others.

RLP: Yes, we made a mistake when we failed in our first year to articulate clearly that when we admitted the churchwardens (which we do in three Eucharists in different parts of the archdeaconry) we would take it in turns to celebrate, and preach when the other was presiding. We didn’t say who was doing what at which service, and this caused considerable difficulty for some traditionalists at one of the services who assumed that you were going to be celebrating.

LJM: That has taught us that we need to be as explicit with others as we have attempted to be with ourselves.

RLP: It helps that we’re in the same place on some things: we both recognise this is the reality of the CofE now—the debate is over, and we are trying to ‘win the peace’ not to continue to fight the war. We both recognise that each of us in some way ministers grace, and that we’re not saying, ‘you are wrong with a capital R and I want you out.’ So I cannot, and do not, hope that traditionalist catholics and conservative evangelicals will die out

LJM: And I recognise that institutionally women are priests and bishops (and archdeacons!) It also helps that were both liturgically flexible and able to function in many different environments, but that is true of any member of any senior staff!

RLP: I found this passage in the Independent Reviewer’s report on the Sheffield appointment very helpful. ‘At heart, the Five Guiding Principles are about relationship, about how relationships (and with and through them mutual trust) can be sustained in the face of fundamental differences of theological understanding on the issue of women’s ordination. What would mutual flourishing look like—for me, for you, and for the Church—and what do I need to do to ensure it is achieved?’


RLP & LJM We hope that we are doing something that will ensure that mutual flourishing is achieved by trying, explicitly and deliberately, to flourish together.

The Venerable Rosemary Lain-Priestley is Archdeacon for the Two Cities and the Venerable Luke Miller is Archdeacon of London.