By Daphne Anson
It seems that our old friend the Vicar of Virginia Water has been prescribed a rest cure by his diocesan overlord prior to taking leave of his pulpit and his parishioners on Easter Sunday.
Readers will recall that following Sizer’s infamous Facebook post regarding Israel and the 9/11 atrocities he undertook, in the words of his superior Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford:
“to refrain, with no exceptions, from attendance at or participation in any conferences which promote or are linked to this agenda; from all writing, tweeting, blogging, emailing, preaching and teaching on these themes, whether formally or informally – a prohibition which of course includes posting links to other sites; and from all background work in this area which may resource others to act as spokespeople in Stephen’s stead.
“Should Stephen be deemed by the Diocese to have broken this agreement, in letter or in spirit, he has pledged to offer me his immediate resignation, which I will duly accept. He has also agreed to desist from the use of social media entirely for the next six months, after which he and I will review that prohibition.
It is fair to say that Stephen seems relieved to be working within this clear new framework, and would now like to redirect his energies into his work as a parish priest….”
|By the president of the Board of Deputies|
As we now know, Sizer has been redirecting his energies into “Peacemaker Mediators” as I revealed here.
To quote John Bevan on the well-known British blog Harry’s Place:
‘….[B]etween 28 February and 6 March 2017, Rev Sizer – in four separate ways – broke his February 2015 undertaking not to write or speak “on any theme that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop”. He did this by linking to two other sites; by preaching on a theme directly related to the current situation in the Middle East; and by then linking to that sermon.
It would seem that Rev Sizer is trying to get away with breaching his February 2015 undertaking. He appears to have calculated that his Bishop won’t now go to the fuss of requiring him to resign, since he will be retiring on 16 April anyway. Yet the Bishop of Guildford’s November 2016 statement was (and remains) clear and unequivocal: the undertaking is to run until the end of Rev Sizer’s tenure of office; and any further breaches will result in that tenure ending with immediate effect.What happens next could be very significant.
No decent person – and certainly no Christian – should want anything to do with “Peacemaker Mediators”, a charity whose CEO will be Stephen Sizer and whose International Board of Reference will include Jenny Tonge. Yet if his Bishop now takes no action, Rev Sizer will retire after Easter, like the soldier who is discharged with honour. He will then, no doubt, trade on that relentlessly in his fundraising and future work. Yet if the Bishop upholds the twice-stated agreement, Dr Sizer will be forced to resign his parish ministry prematurely and with dishonour. This would have well-deserved negative effects on his future activities.
And so Bishop Andrew Watson once again faces a challenge. Will he now act on his strong and unequivocal warning of last November? Or will he meekly retract it, now the time has come for enforcement? Let’s hope he has the courage to do the right thing.’ [Emphasis added]
And to quote a new statement (10 March) by the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson:
“I have become aware that Dr Stephen Sizer has again contravened the agreement he made in February 2015 just five weeks before his planned retirement on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2017. Needless to say I am very disappointed by Dr Sizer’s actions.
“Dr Sizer admits that material shared on his Facebook page in the past two weeks has breached our agreement, and so I have required him to cease all preaching, teaching and leading of services with immediate effect. He will also desist from all use of social media until his retirement takes effect.
“To allow the parish of Virginia Water to say a proper goodbye, I have conceded that Dr Sizer leads ministry over the Easter weekend.” [Emphasis added]
(I notice, incidentally, that Sizer’s sermon concerning the Temple, which I mentioned here and which was one of the factors in the bishop’s decision to suspend Sizer, is present in video format on the Christ Church Virginia Water website.)
As a commenter on John Bevan’s article remarks, “Sacking Church of England ministers is really very difficult. I wouldn’t envy the Bishop trying to get him dismissed in the few weeks he (Sizer) has got left in post.”
But as Mr Bevan observes, “No decent person – and certainly no Christian – should want anything to do with “Peacemaker Mediators”, a charity whose CEO will be Stephen Sizer and whose International Board of Reference will include Jenny Tonge.”
Will the launch of “Peacemaker Mediators” take place at Christ Church as planned, I wonder, or in view of Sizer’s latest breach of faith will the bishop order him to find another venue?
Sadly, Sizer, in breaking his agreement, has given Bishop Watson the proverbial “two-fingered salute”. More sadly still, this latest suspension, though morally justified, is only likely to make Sizer more popular in the eyes of the Israel-haters who have jumped on his bandwagon.
I can just imagine the grin on the turbulent priest’s face.