The Rev'd Dr Robert (Bob) Stephen, currently Rector of Handsworth in the Diocese of Birmingham, has been offered and has accepted the position of Company Secretary of the Free Church of England Central Trust and will be the nominee for the position of General Secretary at the Convocation in May. He will begin half time with the FCE on the 1st May (with the parallel role of Rector of Handsworth running alongside) and will be full time from the 1st July.
Bob is a Scot and was a Baptist Minister from 1985 until ‘converting’ to Anglicanism in 1997. Ordained Deacon in 2004 and Presbyter in 2005, Bob served the Parish of Burbage with Aston Flamville as a self-supporting minister alongside his duties as Chaplain and Teacher at King Henry VIII School in Coventry. Bob was instituted into the Incumbency at Handsworth on the 25th March 2015.
As a Director in the family business and, amongst other things, Chair of Governors in two schools, as well as having been involved in Church planting and working on the setting up and governance of charities, Bob brings a balance of experience and enthusiasm to the new role in the FCE.
Bob will work primarily from the family home in Hinckley in Leicestershire. He is married to Penny, with grown -up children and numerous grandchildren.
It is a matter of thanksgiving to God, that, even during the pandemic, there has been a steady stream of men entering the ordained ministry. Normally ordinations are large events with family and friends of the candidate joining the congregation for what is a very significant moment in his life. Pandemic restrictions have meant that ordinations have had to be small-scale and intimate, but their spiritual significance is unchanged – indeed, the fact that the circumstances were reminiscent of those of times of persecution enhanced the sense of occasion.
There have been three ordinations by Bishop John since the pandemic began.
The Rev'd Sir Laurence New
During much of the first year of the pandemic the Isle of Man closed its borders, making it impossible for St Barnabas’ congregation to have visits from a bishop or presbyter to preside at the Eucharist. The congregation therefore petitioned Bishop John to ordain Sir Laurence New, the Reader (with 40 years’ experience) as their presbyter.
In addition to the completion of the usual FCE processes, it was necessary to seek permission from the Manx Government for Bishop John to visit to perform the ordination. After careful discussions permission was given for the ordination to take place in a facility at Douglas harbour, without Bishop John technically entering the island. The full rite was conducted in the timescale allowed, then Bishop John had to return to the UK and the newly ordained Sir Laurence had to quarantine for a fortnight before he was able to meet his flock.
The Rev'd Steven Jenkins
Steven Jenkins is an Englishman who has lived and worked in the United States for the last twenty years or so. He is a member of the Reformed Episcopal Church in North America and had served as a Reader for a number of years in Bishop Ray Sutton’s church in Dallas. He had completed the REC/NA’s ordination requirements and was due to be ordained, but, having visited the UK, found himself potentially unable to return to the USA because of pandemic restrictions. While over here he had been assisting as a Reader at Christ Church, Harlesden during the Rev'd Robert Wilson’s incapacity. After various exchanges Bishop Sutton, via Letters Dimissory, requested Bishop John to ordain Steven as a Deacon which he duly did at Emmanuel, Morecambe on 23rd October 2020, along with Scott Ellinger (see below). Fortunately, Steven’s wife and adult son were able to be there. Steven was eventually able to return to the United States but returned briefly in July 2021 and was ordained presbyter by Bishop John in St David’s, Preston, with his wife and son and members of the local community taking part in the service. Stephen expects to divide his ministry between the UK and USA for the immediate future.
The Rev'd Scott Ellinger
Varying international Covid restrictions proved even more challenging in the case of Scott Ellinger who had to comply with both UK and Taiwanese requirements. Providentially, the Lord provided a window of opportunity just before the second UK lockdown began and Scott was able to get the necessary clearances to fly to the UK for a week. While here he attended the Northern Diocesan Synod and the Church Planting training sessions (both via Zoom). He was ordained a Deacon in the Church of God at Emmanuel, Morecambe on Friday 23rd October, along with Steven Jenkins. All were seated ‘socially distanced’ and wore masks. Scott’s ordination to the presbyterate was hosted by St David’s, Preston on Sunday, 25th October. The Rev'd Tom de Lacey and the Wardens made arrangements for the service to be streamed live to Taiwan, Siberia, the United States and the Isle of Man. The Epistle was read by Mr Ian Singleton, one of the Wardens. Scott read the Gospel in Mandarin and Bishop John preached. The Rev'ds Tom de Lacey and Anthony Roberts joined in the laying on of hands (singly, rather than simultaneously). Our work in Taiwan is therefore equipped with all the marks of the Church as defined in the 39 Articles (‘the pure Word of God preached, and the Sacraments duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same’) from the beginning.
At the Northern Clergy Conference in March 2020 the need for some literature explaining our identity and mission was discussed. During one of the clergy Zoom meetings that took place when pandemic restrictions came into force, it was agreed to produce some information leaflets to be available in our churches once they started to re-open. A series of leaflets has therefore been created, designed for those who had been in touch online during the lockdown and had expressed an interest in visiting one of our churches once it was possible to do so. Four separate leaflets were therefore drafted with as little ‘technical’ language as possible.
The text was drawn up in consultation with several of the clergy and others and approved by the Diocesan Secretary and Treasurer. The final design was done for us by one of the Bishops of the Continuing Evangelical Episcopal Communion (CEEC) as a practical expression of their commitment to partner with us. Donations totalling £300 were received towards the cost of their production. The first printing of 200 was soon used up and a second print run ordered. Copies are available from the local churches or direct from Bishop John.
2. A Brief Introduction to the Free Church of England
The need was also felt for a short and simple introduction to the FCE vision and story for use in Northern Churches and for enquirers who wanted to know more than the basic information in the leaflets. Several people – both members of the Diocese and people outside the denomination – helped to produce an agreed text which was ‘signed off’ by the Diocesan Officers.
The resultant booklet – A Brief Introduction to the Free Church of England – is 26 pages long and is illustrated. Copies cost £2.50 each. Once lockdown is over copies should be available in each church, but until then they can be obtained from Bishop John.