Midhurst calls for a ‘visible’ bishop

Leading members of the Church of England in the Midhurst area have called for a ‘visible’ bishop who also supports the ministry of women to be appointed to succeed the present Bishop of Chichester when he retires in April.

Mike Abbott, the lay chairman of Midhurst Rural Deanery, has told parishioners there was also a focus on the need for the new bishop to have an ability to communicate at all levels.

Bishop John Hind, who was appointed in 2001 as the successor to Dr Eric Kemp, is known, like his predecessor, not to support the ministry of women.

Mr Abbott writes in the Midhurst parish magazine, The Envoy: “The issue that has been at the forefront for the Chichester Diocese has been that of how to vote on a General Synod motion approving women as bishops.

“The deaneries across the diocese were consulted and voted in favour of women as bishops by 692 votes to 293. However, when the issue was discussed in the Diocesan Synod, the vote went against women as bishops.”

Interviewed by the Observer this week, Mr Abbott declined to say whether the deanery’s demands represented an undercurrent of criticism of the present bishop. But he said: “The bishop came to a Midhurst Deanery evensong about a month ago. I have been at Midhurst parish church for 33 years. That, I think, was probably the first time I have met Bishop John.”

“But we need to try to be positive about this,” Mr Abbott insisted. “We are to have the appointment of a new bishop and I would rather look forward than back.”

He said deanery members and the rural dean, the Rev Derek Welsman, vicar of Easebourne, believed the church had to make itself relevant to people today.

The only two dioceses to vote against women as bishops were London and Chichester. And Sundays were not the same as they were even 30 years ago.

“People go shopping, they take their kids to rugby and football matches, and lots of families take the children to see their ex-partners who are their fathers or mothers.

“The idea of going to church on Sundays is quite a tricky one.”

The new bishop needed to be a person who could visibly lead in that discussion, Mr Abbott said.

Bishop John Hind is the 102nd Bishop of Chichester. His successor is expected to be announced in May next year.