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Candidates for Cantuar: Stephen Cottrell

It is very hard to dislike someone who introduces himself as ‘a bit of an oik from Essex’, as Bishop Stephen does in this 2011 address to Sheffield diocese. And I defy you to dislike Bishop Stephen Cottrell. Dare I insist that you listen to the first 9.55 minutes of this 47.55 minute video? You will not regret it. It is masterly, both as a memorable sermon in the truest meaning of the word and as an example of showmanship, the orator’s art of slowly drawing the audience in. And then please listen to the rest of it as well.

I have never met Bishop Stephen, but I too have been drawn in to the group of his followers. I became hooked one August, when researching a ‘thought for the day‘ for a service of Matins which I was due to take. I came across Bishop Stephen’s ‘Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop‘. I was entranced. Realising that I needed to quote a large chunk of it for full effect, I thought I had better ask the bishop whether he minded. So I, the smallest of small fry, emailed the Bishop of Reading, as he then was. I don’t know what I expected – a standard reply from a minion perhaps – but instead I had the most charming personal reply from Bishop Stephen himself, wishing me (I don’t think he used the word ‘luck’) as a lay worship leader.

Bishop Stephen has his own website, though I don’t think he has yet been persuaded to blog or twitter. His Wikipedia page is here.


Stephen Geoffrey Cottrell, born 31 August 1958, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, was educated at Belfairs High School and the Polytechnic of Central London. After studying at St Stephen’s House, Oxford he was ordained in 1985. He is married to Rebecca, and they have three teenage children.


The Crockford’s entry reads as follows:

+COTTRELL, The Rt Revd Stephen Geoffrey. b 58. Poly Cen Lon BA79. St Steph Ho Ox 81. d 84 p 85 c 04. C Forest Hill Ch Ch S’wark 84-88; P-in-c Parklands St Wilfrid CD Chich 88-93; Asst Dir Past Studies Chich Th Coll 88-93; Dioc Missr Wakef 93-98; Bp’s Chapl for Evang 93-98; Springboard Missr and Consultant in Evang 98-01; Can Res Pet Cathl 01-04; Area Bp Reading Ox 04-10; Bp Chelmsf from 10


He was nominated Bishop of Reading in 2004 after the  Jeffrey John affair. Cottrell had been a supporter of Jeffrey John’s original appointment. He said of his nomination:

I am looking forward to becoming the next Bishop of Reading with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.I believe my work in mission and evangelism has prepared me well for the challenges facing the church in this new century.I hope and pray that my love for and understanding of the different traditions of the Church of England will enable me to be a focus for unity in the Reading Episcopal area.

Bishop Stephen has been  Bishop of Chelmsford since 7 October 2010.


Bishop Stephen is a prolific writer, his Amazon coverage running to three pages (allowing for one or two other Cottrells to have crept in).  It says much to the credit of both, I think, that he has written several books with Bishop Steven Croft, the Evangelical, although he is an Affirming Catholic.

His most recent book is ‘Christ in the Wilderness: Reflecting on the Paintings by Stanley Spencer ‘ which was published this month by SPCK.


The Wikipedia entry on Affirming Catholicism describes it as follows:

The movement represents a liberal strand of Anglo-Catholicism and is particularly noted for holding that Anglo-Catholic belief and practice is compatible with the ordination of women. It also generally supports ordination into the threefold ministry (bishops, priests, deacons) regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The movement was formalised on 9 June 1990, at St Alban’s Church Holborn in London by a number of Anglo-Catholic clergy in the Diocese of London who had been marginalised within, or expelled from, existing Anglo-Catholic groups because of their support for women’s ordination to the priesthood. It developed a theological stance which was staunchly liberal in matters of inclusivity but traditionally Catholic in matters of liturgy and the centrality and theology of the sacraments whilst believing that traditional restrictions on who may receive them should be re-examined.

Bishop Stephen’s diocese, Chelmsford, rejected the Covenant. Bishop Steven himself abstained, as has now been confirmed by one of the comments on this blog.

On the question of women, Bishop Stephen voted in favour of  adjourning the debate to enable reconsideration of amendment 5.1.c, a position generally taken by those in favour of women bishops.

Leap in the dark assessment

When we first made the list in the priority suggested by Oddschecker, Bishop Stephen was 13th in line to the archiepiscopal throne. Today he is 11th, having overtaken Bishops John Packer and Tom Wright in the last couple of days.

A passionate proponent of mission and evangelism, Bishop Stephen’s inclusive attitude and charm might be just the right prescription for the Anglican Communion and Church of England at this juncture?

14 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Well, I think that he would make a very good candidate indeed. Despite the tradition to rotate between Evangelicals and Catholic traditions, he could hold both forts due to his experience and I believe that he would unite any diocese that he was appointed too.

I’ve read several of his books including Hit the ground Kneeling and Do Nothing to Change your life. I found both helpful and insightful. I know that there is a breadth of other work and I might just be tempted back to Amazon for one or two of them. Of course, being a published author seems to be a trait with successive Arch Bishops.

I like the theology of Affirming Catholics, because they hold central much of what I hold central within the Church, particularly the sacramental theology which I hold dear.

I think that there is and should be an honoured place in the Church for all traditions, and would hope that Bishop Stephen would be a catalyst for greater unity and respect between the different traditions.

He would be idea in Canterbury and the wider Church. However, I suspect that his credentials as an inclusive Bishop, might be held against him by the wider Anglican Communion.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, UK Viewer, I think unfortunately you are probably right when you say that the wider Anglican Communion might not be so keen on his inclusivity. But I also agree with you that Bishop Stephen’s ability to communicate across the different traditions of the Church would stand him in good stead.

17 September 2012 16:37
17 September 2012 15:53
Matthew Caminer said...

At last somebody I have met, and know well enough (just) to know me by name!

Excellent assessment by Laura, so I can only add a little colour…

For instance, when he preaches, there is a long and very profound silence before he starts. Once almost hear a sidesman in Heaven calling for silence and inspiration: Bishop Stephen is speaking! That silence never fails to draw everyone in. And in contrast with this clip, he more often than not doesn’t use notes but speaks from the depths of himself on whatever the topic.

At the beginning of his time as Bishop of Reading, the episcopal area in which I live, he was greeted by certain parties with great relief…. here he is, a red-blooded male with a lovely little wife and two children. What an escape, you could hear people saying…. only for his very first statement, as far as I recall, being one of support for Jeffrey John.

My involvement with him has been through Anglican Cursillo (yes, my guest blog is slowly brewing Laura, don’t worry!) and I found him to be totally supportive and committed when needed, even though it may not have been totally his cup of tea. That in itself was highly supportive, and it is that level of support that I believe he gives to everyone, taking them seriously and paying them the compliment of assuming they have something important to say, even if that includes things that he doesn’t agree with.

As a person, yes, he is charming. But I suspect he can be a bit scary too, and his very missionary zeal may make him a rather unusual candidate for ABofC. Whether he would wish to be weighed down by the politics and bureaucracy I don’t know. I rather think he would have very little patience for either.

As others before me have said of candidates that they know, I wouldn’t wish it on him!

To finish with, last time he preached at our village church, he told the story of someone who told him that they didn’t believe anything, but could they still come to church. Yes, he answered, but do not be tempted to say the creed until and if you actually believe what you are saying. I liked him for that honesty, that openness and that counter-intuitive attitude to church growth.

Finally, finally… long before his book “Do Nothing to Save your Life”, perhaps when he was first drafting it, his first article for the Oxford Diocesan Newspaper, The Door, started… “Don’t just do something, sit there!” I loved it and I loved him for it.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Matthew. It’s a curious experience, writing this series. In some cases, try as I might, I do not feel that I have succeeded in getting the essence of the man. In Bishop Stephen’s case, I felt as if I knew him, which in a way through his books I do.
As you say, the thought of becoming Archbishop of Canterbury would probably appal him, and I’m sure would upset Essex, but it might be for the greater good?

17 September 2012 16:49
17 September 2012 16:08

BIG SILENCE (he may be the ONE, sounds like he´s not afraid of his own nature, common sense, leadership ability all with a desire to be understood by those of us who seek healthy spiritual discernment and a wholesome well-being)! BRING HIM ON!

17 September 2012 17:32

Oh, I just heard him/saw him…YES (he´s left me breathless…but, that was probably God).

Lay Anglicana said...

Please keep holding your breath, Leonardo!

17 September 2012 19:10
17 September 2012 17:47
Sam Norton said...

you can’t have him! He hasn’t finished his job with us yet 🙂 i’m sure he’ll move higher though

And yes, he abstained on the covenant vote at diocesan synod

Lay Anglicana said...

Sam, you confirm Bishop Stephen may be just what is needed by saying we can’t have him!
Thank-you for telling us that he abstained – I thought that might be the case.

18 September 2012 04:02
17 September 2012 21:41
Keith Jillings said...

He arrived in Chelmsford just as I left – nothing personal. He is the first Bishop of Chelmsford in decades not to be called John!

I would allow him time to do stuff there before whisking him away to be ABofC – but from what I hear from “the old place”, he’d do a good job.

Lay Anglicana said...

I hear you, but it is a limited field. If you (‘one’) have to factor in whether the candidates are ready to move as well as all the other considerations, the decision becomes almost impossible :>)

18 September 2012 20:11
18 September 2012 20:02
ramtopsrac said...

A wonderfully generous man, who took the time to reply personally when I asked permission to not only use significant chunks of ‘The things he carried’ in an service I was preparing for ‘An Hour at the Cross’, but to put what I had used on the web at

I would be more than happy to have him as ABC, though I suspect it is more likely to be the Bishop of Durham.

Thanks for posting these pen-sketches Laura, they are appreciated, and helped my father and I discuss the possibilities over the weekend.

Is there due to be an announcement before ++Rowan retires, or will it be left till after he has gracefully stepped aside?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this additional insight into Bishop Stephen.
I wish I knew when the CNC are due to make their recommendation – then I could aim to gracefully get through the list to coincide with this. I had originally heard the end of September, but have now been told it might be October/November (neither from a particularly official source).
My mother would have calmly replied, in one of her favourite phrases, ‘wait and see’!

19 September 2012 21:12
19 September 2012 20:18
Kate ardern said...

Great analysis, Laura! I’m a great admirer of +Stephen’s books which are insightful, learned and accessible. He always comes across as an excellent communicator and everything I’ve ever heard about him suggests he would be a fantastic ABC- but I thought maybe this time might be too soon for him especially if the tradition of rotating Anglo-catholic with Evangelical continues. If the powers that be can bear to break with that tradition, then + Stephen is the imaginative, progressive and young High Church candidate…. I would love them to be that bold.

21 September 2012 22:51

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