More than 200 people went to a meeting in Brighton yesterday evening (Wednesday 23 November) to share their views on the next bishop to serve Brighton and Hove.
The Bishop of Chichester is retiring next April and a “Vacancy in See” committee has been set up to help pick a successor to the Right Reverend John Hind, 66.
The committee is working with Caroline Boddington, the archbishops’ secretary for appointments, and Sir Paul Britton, the Prime Minister’s appointments secretary.
Sir Paul said: “I am tremendously heartened to see so many people.”
The 220 people present made it the largest gathering of its kind in his memory.
He said: “Our experience of these meetings varies from 150 people in Durham to one person who came in Chelmsford and who said, ‘I’ve come to listen.’
“We’re here for three days. We’ll see something like 150 people, many of them from within the church and some people from outside it.”
Those from outside the church would include the lord lieutenants, the chief constable, and representatives of local authorities, schools, universities and other faiths.
He added: “I’m particularly interested, because David Cameron is interested, in what is the relationship between the church and society in this place.”
Meetings have been held in the three archdeaconries.
One member said at the meeting in Brighton this evening that the diocese was semi-detached.
Others called for a bishop who would unify the diocese, not least with a decision about women bishops due to be made by the Church of England General Synod next year.
A 10-year-old boy, in his school uniform, became the youngest speaker at one of these meetings.
A worshipper at St Paul’s, Brighton, urged the appointments secretaries to recommend a candidate who understands the needs of gay Christians.
Several wanted a traditional catholic bishop and several called for a bishop who would be outward looking.
One described the diocese as being in danger of becoming a ghetto – because of the issue of women priests which was, another said, an example of the inward-looking nature of the diocese.
The Reverend Stephen Terry, rector of Aldrington, Hove, was one of a number of people who said that the next bishop should speak up for social justice.
He said: “In the past week I’ve conducted six funerals which is not unusual.
“One was a young autistic man who hanged himself in Lewes Prison.
“The other was a man in his twenties who died of bowel cancer and whose mother could not afford to pay for his funeral.
“We need a bishop who will address issues of social justice.
“We need a bishop who will be fearless in speaking truth to power.
“The government is making a lot of the right noises but I haven’t seen much evidence that they’re listening.”
One minister raised a laugh when calling for a bishop who would ordain women, to balance the two junior bishops in the diocese who were opposed, when he said: “We must have a bishop without ‘previous’ in this diocese and without cronies. We must attach a broom to his crozier.”
His call for a new broom was echoed by a member of the cathedral congregation.
Caroline Boddington said that an initial long list of ten candidates would be whittled down to three or four by early March.
She said: “Medical and CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks will need to be carried out and we hope to be in a position to make the name public in the early summer.”
Archdeacon Douglas McKittrick, who chaired the meeting at St Bartholomew’s Church in Ann Street, Brighton, thanked all who took part including hundreds who had emailed firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Crown Nominations Commission will put forward two candidates to the Prime Minister, named in order of preference. Mr Cameron will submit just the one name to the Queen who confers the appointment.
The commission is chaired – for the vacancy in Chichester – by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Its membership includes six members of the Vacancy in See Committee and six members of the General Synod – three from the House of Laity and three from the House of Clergy.
Caroline Boddington and Sir Paul Britton are non-voting members of the commission.