From Maidstone to Ebbsfleet
…and from Rod to Rob, David Banting introduces a new bishop
In December, Downing Street announced that the Successor to Bishop Rod Thomas at the See of Maidstone would be the Revd Dr Rob Munro at the See of Ebbsfleet. Whatever the CofE was finessing by transferring the role of the previous See of Ebbsfleet to Oswestry and of the previous See of Maidstone to Ebbsfleet, no one can be entirely sure. However, institutionally it means that the new Bishops of Oswestry (for traditional Catholics) and of Ebbsfleet (for conservative, that is complementarian, Evangelicals) will be ‘embedded’ in the dioceses of Lichfield and Chester respectively – Chester because, though Ebbsfleet is connected with Canterbury, it was always understood that the new complementarian Bishop would be accommodated more centrally in the country. Chester is the diocese where Rob Munro has served all his ministry, so he is already well known, respected and loved there.
The public announcement of Rob’s appointment was accompanied the same day by a small Press Conference at All Souls Langham Place in London, where he started out in 1985 as a part-time teaching assistant at the All Souls CofE Primary School, while he began his theological studies at All Souls College of Applied Theology. The Bishop of London chaired the Press Conference, in which she repeated her deep debt of gratitude to the retired Bishop of Maidstone for his partnership in the gospel before commending Rob to the Church as a whole and the complementarian constituency of churches and clergy across the country who he is called to represent and advocate among the bishops and dioceses of the CofE.
Rob Munro was born in Manchester and came to faith as an 18-year-old through the youth ministry of St Mary’s, Cheadle. He read Maths at Bristol and, after the two years at All Souls in London, trained as a teacher at Manchester University. He taught Maths and PE for two years before training at Oak Hill Theological College and ordination in 1993 to a curacy at St John the Baptist Hartford in Chester diocese. His first incumbency from 1997 was at St Wilfred’s in Davenham, to be followed in 2003 by becoming Rector of his old church, St Mary’s Cheadle with St Cuthbert’s. It was during this time that he completed his doctorate from Reformed Theological Seminary, USA.
Rob is married to Sarah and they have three children. Passionately committed to the local church at the heart of God’s mission, he served as Rural Dean of Cheadle from 2016. In the wider Church he has been a member of General Synod since 2005 and is currently on the Dioceses Commission. He has been on Bishop’s Council in Chester since 2000 and has chaired the House of Clergy on Diocesan Synod since 2014. He is also on the CofE Evangelical Council (CEEC), is chair of the Fellowship of Word and Spirit (FWS), and is on the Councils of Church Society and Latimer Trust.
If his predecessor, Bishop Rod Thomas, had pioneered this distinctive episcopal role and helped to oversee a network of Resolution Parishes in three-quarters of the dioceses, Rob is well placed to build on this partnership and expression of mutual flourishing. His formal brief under the original House of Bishops Declaration of 2014 is to ‘provide extended episcopal oversight’, where needed, to parishes which, ‘on the grounds of complementarian evangelical theology are unable to receive the priestly of episcopal ministry of women’ – the issue for complementarian Evangelicals being ‘oversight assurance’ where being ‘unable to receive the ministry’ is sharply focused for such Evangelicals in the issue of headship. That is explicit in marriage, the sacrificial servant-hearted call to the husband, and, by extension from the human family to the household of God, in the call to men to give oversight as incumbents (in the local church) and bishops (in the wider Church). Complementarianism is the biblical conviction that mission and ministry flourish best when teams of women and men work together to complement each other as equal and different. The Settlement of 2014 recognised that this difference in the understanding of how the partnership of men and women in ministry is outworked needed to be episcopally recognised, respected and served. Bishop Rob, as he soon will be, is utterly committed to this mutual flourishing and has called all to be renewed in this responsibility in the Church.
Rob Munro’s consecration will also take place on Thursday, February 2, at 2pm in Canterbury Cathedral. Meanwhile, he seeks to set up a new home and office in Chester diocese. He has perhaps inadvertently prepared himself for episcopacy by addressing the Junior Anglican Evangelical Clergy (JAEC) conference last October on the subject of ‘The Household of God and the role of Bishops’. He has also shown himself well aware of the need to establish good leadership culture in the Church. He is speaking very soon after his consecration at the FWS conference in February on ‘Leadership reset – in an age of scandals, struggles and schism’. The Bible readings will be taken from 1 Timothy, always a good place to quarry wisdom for those who ‘aspire to the noble task of being an overseer’.