The incoming bishop in the Diocese of Canterbury is refusing to disclose if she authorised a same-sex married candidate to be accepted for ordination training and in doing so violated the Church of England’s rules, even before her consecration as bishop.
On the day Bishop-designate Rose Hudson-Wilkin was named as the Bishop of Dover, candidate Yin-An Ian Chen announced on Facebook that as the “acting bishop” of Canterbury, Mrs Hudson-Wilkin “will be the new bishop who’ll officially sign and send me for ordination training.”
“Super excited!! We have to make the diocese different!! Make it more diverse and progressive!” Mr Chen added.
The Bishop of Dover is virtually the diocesan bishop of Canterbury in all but name since the Archbishop of Canterbury resides in Lambeth and oversees the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Friends on Chen’s Facebook page noted that Chen passed his Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) a couple of months ago and officially announced on 11 June that he would go to Westcott House, Cambridge, to train for ordination to the priesthood.
BAP recommends to a bishop whether a candidate should enter training for ordained ministry in the Church of England.
In another post Chen announced that he had married his partner. “Thanks! Yes, I’m married now. I don’t need to get an engagement visa for that because I’m a British resident,” he reported.
“He says he’s married but hasn’t yet got the marriage certificate. He told me his next step is to get it legalised by the FCO,” a friend commented, pointing out that Chen was getting married in his parish church of St Mary’s and All Saints.
However, another friend corrected the commenter observing that it would be a service of blessing. “He’s definitely married. He got married at Camden Registry Office,” the friend wrote.
While Chen’s Facebook friends queried as to whether this was a marriage or a civil partnership, a friend noted that the ordinand had “just deleted the photos from Camden Registry Office from his Facebook profile.”
The marriage registrars’ database confirms that a Mr Yin-An Chen was married in 2019.
“The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry.”
Gay clergy in the Church of England are permitted to enter into a same-sex civil partnership conditional to an assurance of celibacy, but are prohibited from getting married.
“Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England,” the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage (2014) states categorically.
It underlines bishops’ “agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged” citing Canon B30 and affirming the nature of marriage as “of one man with one woman.”
“The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry,” it states, highlighting the statement in bold for added emphasis.
While the Church of England “has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly,” it clarifies, “nevertheless, at ordination clergy undertake to ‘accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.’ We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.”
The BAP assessment sheet states: “Candidates must be willing to live within the discipline of Issues in Human Sexuality.”
It also requires candidates to: “Accept the standards of sexual morality expected of ordained ministers,” and asks for “evidence” of this undertaking.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, member of General Synod, told Rebel Priest:
If the bishops have laid down the law on marriage and human sexuality, they should be setting an example and upholding it first. What can one say of a bishop who breaks the rules even before swearing the oath of office, especially when she currently holds a role where she is Chaplain to the House of Commons? How is this setting an example to those in public office?
Rebel Priest repeatedly contacted Bishop-designate Rose Hudson-Wilkin and Mr Yin-An Ian Chen but the bishop and ordinand did not respond. Rebel Priest also contacted the outgoing principal of Westcott House Canon Chris Chivers and the new vice-principal The Revd Dr Paul Dominiak, but did not receive a reply.
Conservative evangelical Bishop of Maidstone Rod Thomas replied to Rebel Priest’s media query and said that he had agreed to have “no involvement in the Canterbury Diocese” since 2015, and knew nothing about the circumstances regarding Mr Chen.
Chen has served as pastoral assistant in the “inclusive church” Parish of Putney, Diocese of Southwark and has a record of posting pro-LGBT material on social media.
“Very proud of my country, #Taiwan. We have taken one more step to protect #lgbt people and serve them this equal right on the island. #MarriageEquality,” he posted after Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage in May 2019.
Chen has been a visiting scholar in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He has a number of peer-reviewed publications, many of which promote queer theology and challenge the traditional understanding of Christian marriage.
“The question for the Church of England is whether they form their theology of human sexuality on the basis of queer theory or fidelity to Jesus?”
One of his articles in the journal Queer Theology is titled: “Does God Create Monogamy at the Beginning? The Paradigm Shift of Christian Thoughts of Marriage and Family.’ Chen’s MA thesis from Durham University is on “The Eucharistic Meals as Christ’s Real Presence from the Perspective of Queer Theology: Five Characteristics of the Queer Eucharist.”
Bishop Gavin Ashenden, former Queen’s Chaplain, explained the implications of approving Chen for ordination:
Given the public advocacy for the queering of the Church that this particular ordinand has promoted, the fact that he is ‘married’ in contravention to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England makes his acceptance for ordination in the Diocese of Dover a test case for both Rose Hudson-Wilkin and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr Ashenden further observed:
One has to assume he hid this from them and they do and did not know. But now they have been told the truth, their refusal to comment and to act raises a serious question about their integrity as bishops and the integrity of the Church of England’s well-publicised stance. The question for the Church of England is whether they form their theology of human sexuality on the basis of queer theory or fidelity to Jesus?
Westcott House, where Chen is currently studying for ordination is regarded as liberal and inclusive.
In 2017, the college expressed regret after a service was held in the chapel to celebrate LGBT history month using the ‘gay slang’ Polari.
The doxology “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” was rendered as: “Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy.”
Bishop-designate Rose Hudson-Wilkin is currently Priest-in-Charge of St Mary-at-Hill, City of London.
She additionally holds the roles of Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, priest vicar at Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Queen.
A Spectator article published after her appointment as Bishop of Dover was announced, pointed out how “she specialises in haranguing her audiences about not being diverse enough.”