Peter Gowlland: the Diocese of Southwark responds

Following His Grace’s reporting of the plight of Lay Reader Mr Peter Gowlland, who was suspended from ministry following differences of opinion on the Coalition for Marriage petition, the story has spread far and wide and the Diocese of Southwark has seen fit to put out an official statement. It has being inferred from this (notably by the ecclesial vermin) this His Grace was wrong in certain key facts, and even drew on a warped source for the story. Neither, in fact, is true: the statement by the Diocese ( and reporting in the Church Times) does not actually contradict anything His Grace wrote:

Statement from Southwark diocese on the claim a reader was “sacked” for opposing gay marriage:

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Southwark said:

The Reader in question has not been suspended. Some members of the congregation had raised some pastoral concerns with the Archdeacon and he discussed these with the Reader. During the meeting it became clear that there are disagreements within the parish concerning how some matters are handled. The Archdeacon asked the Reader to refrain from ministry in the particular parish for two months in order for there to be time for these pastoral matters to be resolved. The Bishop of Southwark has put measures in place to try to resolve the difficulties within the parish.

The issue is not about the traditional view of marriage but related to matters of church order and authority during an interregnum.

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Fisking:

Statement from Southwark diocese on the claim a reader was “sacked” for opposing gay marriage:

His Grace never used the word ‘sacked’. If others have done so, then they must answer for their misinformation.

The Reader in question has not been suspended.

Mr Gowlland was ‘invited to withdraw’ from preaching and leading worship for a period of two months. Since the kind invitation was clearly extended with more than an inference of obligatory acceptance, it is not unreasonable to infer that it amounts to suspension. We can quibble over terms, but Mr Gowlland is in no doubt that his ministry has been suspended, and the OED concurs. Certainly, he is not permitted to minister. If that is not suspension, His Grace does not know what is.

Some members of the congregation had raised some pastoral concerns with the Archdeacon and he discussed these with the Reader.

These members of the congregation ought to have been exhorted to follow Scripture and take their concerns directly to Mr Gowlland. The (acting) Archdeacon should have rebuked them for gossiping and slandering Mr Gowlland behind his back. Certainly, the Archdeacon ought to have given Mr Gowlland proper warning of the allegations made against him and time to respond properly to them. To ambush him with no warning (which is, ironically, what Mr Gowlland is accused of doing to his fellow believers) is not only discourteous but contrary to natural justice. In particular, one would expect better behaviour from the retired Bishop David Atkinson, who was one of those who complained directly to the Archdeacon.

During the meeting it became clear that there are disagreements within the parish concerning how some matters are handled.

Surely these disagreements had been made known prior to the meeting? Why otherwise did some members of the congregation see fit to escalate the matter to the Archdeacon if it was not to communicate certain disagreements? The Archdeacon was clearly aware of differences of opinion and appears to have made up his mind on a course of action before his meeting with Mr Gowlland.

The Archdeacon asked the Reader to refrain from ministry in the particular parish for two months in order for there to be time for these pastoral matters to be resolved.

This asking was not a request: it was mandatory. Ergo, Mr Gowlland is suspended. Differences of opinion must involve (at least) two disputing parties (schizophrenia excepting), but Mr Gowlland is the only Lay Reader to have been disciplined.

The Bishop of Southwark has put measures in place to try to resolve the difficulties within the parish.

The resolution requires no special measures. The Archdeacon failed to follow Scripture, and set aside principles of natural justice. This whole matter need never have escalated to episcopal level if those believers who had concerns had bothered to have a quiet word with Mr Gowlland in the vestry. Instead, they chose to go behind his back and present their views to the Archdeacon. The Archdeacon chose to believe their account and summarily suspended Mr Gowlland. The more they deny this, the more foolish they appear.

The issue is not about the traditional view of marriage but related to matters of church order and authority during an interregnum.

It would be nice to believe this particular bit of spin, but it must be observed that Mr Gowlland was ‘invited to withdraw’ from ministry following his support for the Coalition for Marriage petition. The other Lay Readers who take a different view on marriage have not been suspended (or ‘invited to withdraw’) from their ministries, despite their manifest contribution to the disharmony and trasgression of church order. It beggars belief that an experienced Lay Reader of 50 years standing should require some sort of special permission or submit to some sort of corporate vetting before he may mention from the pulpit a petition designed to uphold the traditional and biblical view of marriage. Why have Lay Readers Mary Duncan and Penny Bird not also been ‘invited to withdraw’ from their ministries after exhorting the congregation not to sign the petition, since this exhortation was also made without prior discussion and consensual agreement?

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That’s what you think.

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