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The Revd Jo Bailey Wells: A New Chaplain To A New Cantuar


On 28 February  Archbishop Justin Welby announced the appointment of the Reverend Dr Jo Bailey Wells as his new Chaplain, based at Lambeth Palace. Her primary focus will be for the spiritual life at Lambeth Palace and for supporting the Archbishop’s pastoral and liturgical ministry.

She was one of the keynote speakers at the Faith In Conflict conference held a few days earlier:

Jo is currently consultant to Continuing Indaba at the Anglican Communion Office in London. Until recently she was Director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, responsible for training some of the brightest and best young priests for Anglican and Episcopal church leadership across America. During her seven years there, the House developed a unique reputation for working across the fractured ecclesial divides in the wake of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. Jo is also theological consultant to the Archbishop of Sudan, supporting the work of over a dozen theological colleges and bible schools in South Sudan and Sudan, and teaching there regularly herself. In the work of nurturing future leaders – whether in the USA or in the Sudans – Jo has worked to grow in individuals an ambitious vision to stretch them beyond their personal, political or tribal concerns.Jo’s academic interests focus on the Old Testament, seeking to enable its literature and theology to be enjoyed more fully within the church. Handling diversity and managing conflict turn out to be hot issues in ancient as well as modern times – and Jo looks forward to exploring such connections, challenges and opportunities at this conference.

Jo has taught and spoken widely on four continents, and published two books — God’s Holy People (2000) and a commentary on Isaiah (2006) — as well as various articles. Previous appointments include Dean of Clare College, Cambridge as well as lecturer in Old Testament at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.

Wikipedia says:

 Ridley Hall teaching tends towards an evangelical theology. It is one of four Church of England theological colleges (the others being St John’s College, Nottingham, Trinity College, Bristol and Cranmer Hall in Durham) which self-identify as “Open Evangelical“.

The terse prose of Crockford’s describes her career as follows:

WELLS, Jo Bailey. b 1965. CCC Cam BA87 MA90 Minnesota Univ MA90 St Jo Coll Dur BA92 PhD97. Cranmer Hall Dur. d 95 p 96. Chapl Clare Coll Cam 95-98; Dean 98-01; Perm to Offic Nor 99-04; Tutor Ridley Hall Cam 01-05; Dir Angl Studies Duke Div Sch N Carolina USA 05-12. [Address] St Martin’s Place, London

In a way, the two most interesting facts in this summary are that she was born in 1965 and ordained deacon in 1995, at the age of thirty. In other words, she is part of the first generation of women priests who were able to become priests in the normal course of events, just as a man would, the enabling measure having been passed in 1992. However, judging from the difficulties experienced by the Revd Maggi Dawn, it seems likely that she would nevertheless have faced prejudice in some quarters.

As in the case of the posts about bishops, I have compiled this from published sources, as you can see. However, I have also talked to someone who knew her well in Cambridge where he tells me she was much liked and regarded as ‘a good thing’. He also told me something which must be generally known, but I have not seen mentioned in the coverage so far. She is married to The Revd Dr Sam Wells, who also spoke at the Faith in Conflict conference and is described as:

Sam is Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College, London. St Martin’s is a unique parish called to a three-dimensional congregational, commercial, and charitable vocation in the heart of London; it is equally well known for its work with the homeless, its role in the arts, its café, and its social advocacy, respectively. Sam studied at Oxford, Edinburgh, and Durham. His Ph.D. was entitled How the Church Performs Jesus’ Story. He was ordained in 1991 and has served parishes in Newcastle, Cambridge, and Norwich…Sam was for seven years Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, North Carolina. During this time he was closely involved in the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, which seeks reconciliation between victims, perpetrators and wider society, particularly in relation to violent crimes. The book Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, which Sam wrote with Marcia A. Owen, arose out of this ministry. Sam has also written sixteen other books, including studies of ethics as improvisation, how worship shapes character, and more popular works such as Power and Passion and What Anglicans Believe. His work often focuses on bringing people of different social locations into deeply enriching face-to-face relationships in the context of fear and faith. He is currently writing a book on good and less good ways of engaging with poverty.

It is of course never easy to work out what someone who comes from an ‘Open Evangelical’ background believes on the LGBT front. However, it is interesting  to note that Jo Bailey Wells’ husband’s church has this to say on its website: We are listed as a ‘welcoming and open’ congregation by Changing Attitude, meaning we are open and fully accepting to all, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or background.

Mr and Mrs Wells may not share this inclusive approach – many couples have widely differing opinions on all sorts of things. But, let us hope it is a straw in the wind…

And maybe someone out there can tell us?

It is worth reading reaction at The Episcopal Cafe to this appointment. Several people who know her are strongly in favour of the appointment. Others feel that her reaction to the appointment of gay bishops in The Episcopal Church may indicate a prejudice on her part. My ‘leap in the dark hunch’ is that Jo Bailey Wells is an exceptionally clever woman, with a proven gift for conflict resolution. Her reactions may be intellectual rather than emotive: they are certainly likely to be nuanced. If she can help the Church of England – and Anglican Communion – to see the issue in a more nuanced way, that in itself would be an outcome devoutly to be wished.


1 comment on this post:

Joyce said...

I followed the link on facebook and am very impressed. She seems to be very well thought-of. If she’s all she’s said to be, it shows that our new ABC has excellent judgement. A good start !

10 March 2013 14:59

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