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Candidates for Cantuar: Tim Thornton



Bishop Timothy Martin Thornton is the most elusive bishop that I have so far attempted to describe.

His Wikipedia entry, which in the case of some bishops runs to 6 pages, runs instead to six lines:

Timothy Martin “Tim” Thornton (born 14 April 1957) is the current Bishop of Truro, having previously been the Bishop of Sherborne from 2001 to 2008. Thornton was educated at Devonport High School for Boys, the University of Southampton and King’s College London. Ordained in 1980, following priestly formation at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, he began his ministry with a curacy at Todmorden followed by a spell as Priest-in-charge at Walsden. He then became Bishop’s Chaplain to David Hope: successively in the Diocese of Wakefield and the Diocese of London. From 1994 until 1998 he was Principal of the North Thames Ministerial Training Course. His final post before his ordination to the episcopate was as the vicar of Kensington.

Very good. Seeking further information from his diocesan website a week ago, I found a link to a profile page, which I followed only to be greeted with a dreaded ‘404’ message (‘Page not found’ – if you follow the link now, it is still there). Nothing daunted, I then telephoned the diocesan office and asked to speak to someone who could perhaps send me a copy of the information on the page. Did the diocese have a press officer? The person on the switchboard assured me that someone would ring back but I was not altogether surprised when nothing happened. The website has a nice line in self-deprecation, at least when describing their bishop. If you search ‘Thornton’, you will get no illuminating results and when Bishop Tim joins some teenagers on an Outward Bound-type course, he is described as ‘tagging along‘ (somehow I cannot imagine the Bishop of London being described as ‘tagging along’ to anything) which he gamely did, despite admitting to having no head for heights.


Bishop Tim is chairman of the national Continuing Ministerial Development Panel, which would indicate that he does have some experience of the Church of England at a national level.

The Crockford’s entry reads as follows:
+THORNTON, The Rt Revd Timothy Martin. b 57. Southn Univ BA78 K Coll Lon MA97. St Steph Ho Ox 78. d 80 p 81 c01. C Todmorden Wakef 80-82; P-in-c Walsden 82-85; Lect Univ of Wales (Cardiff) Llan 85-87; Chapl 85-86; Sen Chapl 86-87; Bp’s Chapl Wakef 87-91; Dir of Ords 88-91; Bp’s Chapl Lon 91-94; Dep P in O 92-01; Prin NTMTC 94-98; V Kensington St Mary Abbots w St Geo Lon 98-01; AD Kensington 00-01; Area Bp Sherborne Sarum 01-08; Bp Truro from 08.


I have not been able to find any. There is just one YouTube clip, but don’t blink or you will miss it (less than 5 seconds)

Attitude to Same-Sex Marriage

Bishop Tim wrote in December 2010 in The Daily Telegraph:

There is a difference between marriage and what are at the moment called civil partnerships. We need to be honest about that.
From my faith perspective and background, marriage is about the relationship between a man and a woman who commit themselves to a lifelong faithful partnership out of which in many cases, but not all, can come the gift of children.
That is a different thing from a civil partnership.
Speaking as the chairman of the Children’s Society, I don’t have any problem in understanding that civil partnerships can be places where children are adopted and they have very good relationships. I know of such couples who are very good parents. I don’t have a problem with that.
Speaking as a bishop, I do not myself see that at this stage it would be right for us to be making a significant change.

Colin Coward of ‘Changing Attitude’ commented on this article:

Even younger and supposedly more alert bishops like Tim Thornton, recently moved from Sherborne to Truro, can write an article about civil partnerships and marriage for the Daily Telegraph which is defensive and badly argued. He talks about the blessing of ‘homosexual practice, to put it in crude terms’ which is, from Changing Attitude’s perspective, to put it in very crude terms indeed, Tim.
Bishop Tim thinks the most significant thing is the danger of a confusion between different things, marriage and civil partnerships, which, “if we open ourselves up to blurring that difference … would be unhelpful for all concerned.” This is a problem for a minority, for bishops who spinelessly toe the line and other Christians who still think gay relationships are unlike heterosexual relationships.


Bishop Tim was one of the very few bishops actually to vote against the Anglican Covenant, in November 2011, which would have needed a degree of moral courage and shows a principled stand.

He also voted at General Synod in favour of adjourning the debate to enable reconsideration of amendment 5.1.c, the position generally taken by those in favour of women bishops.

Is it reasonable to infer that Bishop Tim is an Anglo-Catholic from his chairmanship of the English Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee, together with the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, announced in March this year?

English ARC, which was established in 1974, now comprises ten Roman Catholic and ten Anglican members, with the General Secretary of Churches Together in England as an observer. It is chaired by the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, and the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton.

The Archbishop of Birmingham said, ‘I look forward to working with the members of English ARC to find new paths towards the unity for which Our Lord prayed.’

The Bishop of Truro said, ‘I am excited by the commitment of English ARC’s new members and the prospect of a programme of work which will make a difference to our churches and their common witness both nationally and at the local level’.


Edwardian books on etiquette advised that ladies should only appear in the press on three occasions in their life: birth,  marriage and  death. Although my experience might lead me to suppose that Bishop Tim is attempting to live his life according to the precepts of genteel Edwardian womanhood, I am drawn instead to a different and more interesting inference.

I think it is perhaps likely that Bishop Tim is a genuinely humble man. It may be that he takes seriously the various versions of: So the last shall be first, and the first last (Matthew 20.16).

Leap in the dark assessment

If the Crown Nominations Commission are looking for a Servant King, Bishop Tim Thornton could be their man.



The illustration is from the BBC (the Wikipedia entry contains no picture of Bishop Tim).  Google images show that there are not many photographs in the public domain and those that there are tend to be of low resolution. The one I have used is a thumbnail, which I have magnified three times before inserting in this blog post.

21 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

A good portrait of a little known Pastor, Priest, and Bishop. I suspect that Rev Jean Rolt could give you a deeper insight as she serves in Cornwall.

His example of humble servanthood seems to be quite appropriate for any Clergy, let alone the Arch Bishop of Canterbury.

I have no problem whatsoever with his Anglo Catholic background, albeit, some senior Evangelical’s might take umbrage that they’ve missed out on their turn at the top of the pile.

As to the article that Colin Coward alludes to, it might be clumsy theology, but it’s actually an additional insight into someone who might actually find it difficult to deal with the physical bits connected with gay partnerships, while being happy for them to be in happy, loving, long term relationships.

In the end, it seems to me that he might be an outsider, but he actually might be a surprise candidate and a very effective Arch Bishop. I think that Truro Diocese might be a bit put out to lose their diocesan so early in his ministry.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Ernie. Yet another candidate who might be good, but who has not served a full term in his diocese. I do hope that that would not be a deal-breaker.
But if he really is averse to publicity, that is actually quite a serious handicap.

Sui Juris said...

What is a “full term” in a diocese? I know what you mean in principle but how many years’ experience (or commitment?) do we in fact expect? And conversely how long (or how old) is too long?

I suspect that too much weight is put upon such matters, and I suspect you do, too!

Of course, if we were obedient to the councils, we wouldn’t allow the “divorce” of bishop from diocese at all. Then we’d have to find the right Archbishop from among the clergy – or the laity. An interesting thought experiment would be to compile a good shortlist which excluded the bishops.

Lay Anglicana said...

I like your last suggestion. Apart from Richard Branson (whom I must admit I was not entirely serious about) who might fit the bill, I wonder?

As to ‘terms of office’, I do not know whether it is a strength or a weakness that neither of us knows the answer to your question. I think it should be a strength – if there is no fixed period, there can be no objection to (what is the opposite of ‘parachuting’ I wonder?) bishops from one diocese to the next at short notice. Proper flying bishops, in fact.

Thank-you for commenting (may I call you ‘Sui’ for short?) If you are Sui Juris, I think I can lay claim to being Sui Generis ;>)

Matthew Caminer said...

In Scotland, the Primus remains diocesan bishop of wherever he is/was, I think roughly what Sui had in mind. But then Primus of the SEC is a very different proposition from ABofC

25 September 2012 20:10
25 September 2012 19:40
25 September 2012 17:25
25 September 2012 16:38
Matthew Caminer said...

A good picture of what is known, I agree, but I would have hoped to know more about where he is pastorally, on mission, and much else that I think should be at the heart of someone’s ministry, whether as priest or as bishop, let alone archbishop. If the information isn’t openly available, I don’t think that’s a very encouraging sign.

Put another way, it could be argued that for ABC, the need for statesmanship, diplomacy, negotation and dialogue is absolutely non-negotiable requirement, but it needs to be an extra layer on top of the essentials of priesthood – what I seem to see here is certainly not a void, of course, but a rather dark horse on these fundamentals.

In a funny way it reminds me of a new spiritual director I had who, before the first session, asked me to drop him a line about my rule of life. I being me sent him a beautifully crafted seven or eight page document. He said, yes Matthew, very nice, but I just wanted to know whether you say your prayers. Not sure if that’s relevant but it came to my mind in this context, and if it gives a smile, so much the better.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Matthew. It was indeed frustrating to write this (or rather to do the research). I went down what felt like blind alley after blind alley, unable to offer an explanation. I do know he is widely liked, and I have the advantage – which you didn’t when writing your comment – of seeing Charlie Peer’s thoughts on the subject, which do fill in a little of the void.

25 September 2012 19:45
UKViewer said...


Your remark about your Spiritual Director and rule of life, reminds me of when I was asked to do one for my SD. Like you I prepared a lovely chart or table, tabulated and commented only to find that he just wanted to know did I say MP and EP. Doh!

But a good lesson in finding out exactly what is needed before wasting to much effort.

25 September 2012 20:36
25 September 2012 17:36
25 September 2012 16:28
Matthew Caminer said...

As a matter of interest, any idea of +Tim’s (or each of the other candidates’) position on freemasonry, and any opinions out there on whether that should be a factor?

Lay Anglicana said...

I am really not qualified to answer – although I know that freemasonry is much less secret as a topic than it used to be, I imagine the details of any individual’s masonic connections would be secret unless they chose to divulge them. The Royal Family always seem to have been quite open about their masonic connections – perhaps ‘pour encourager les autres’?

25 September 2012 19:42
25 September 2012 17:26
Charlie said...

*clears throat*

Strangely, when I have the chance to speak from a position of knowledge, I find that I don’t really want to. I guess it’s because it isn’t very appropriate to talk in public about someone who you know personally and (without making any claim to intimacy) think of as a friend.

I can answer a few of your questions, explicit and implicit. Tim is of a liberal catholic background, seasoned by an enthusiasm for the gospel, which makes him perhaps similar to Stephen Cottrell among the better known Bishops. However he is quite enigmatic and his views on things can be hard to categorise, as your quick survey of his approach to the two “hot potato” issues shows.

His leadership style is in fact quite top-down. He prefers to lead from the front and likes to set the vision in broad brush terms, often, dare I say it, before he knows all the details of how it will work out. (if that sounds critical, I speak as someone who has the same tendency, so I’m sympathetic). He goes down well in the churches because he leads worship and preaches with lots of energy and humour.

One of Tim’s most attractive qualities is his honesty and willingness to “think aloud” in meetings with the clergy and in the deaneries. How this would work in the context of Canterbury, I don’t know.

My personal hope is that he remains in Truro, because his work there is very incomplete. However I also hope that the CNC might find him another post in the future, perhaps in a larger diocese, where he would by then be a huge asset, as one of the most experienced bishops in the Church.

Matthew Caminer said...

Interesting…. it makes me think that he is perhaps in the right place as a diocesan bishop, the place where he can add most value. I am also conscious that, just as it can’t (I hope!) be done on the basis of ‘Muggin’s Turn’, neither should the ‘Peter Principle’ (= people being promoted to the level of their incompetence). Neither, obviously, a comment on +Tim, but on the whole process.

Lay Anglicana said...

Good points, Matthew – thank-you

25 September 2012 19:47
25 September 2012 18:48
Lay Anglicana said...

I’m very grateful for this, Charlie. It makes such a difference when someone who knows the subject casts a glance over these pieces which, by their very nature, are ‘from the outside looking in’. I am glad that I got the enigmatic part right, and interesting to hear that he is a Liberal Catholic, if we have to label him, in the Stephen Cottrell mould.

25 September 2012 19:49
25 September 2012 18:36
Jean Rolt said...

All I am prepared to say about Bishop Tim is that he is a lovely supportive man who we are lucky to have here in the Truro Diocese He keeps a low profile following a man who had a very high one. ..I hope we have him for a bit longer.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this. I can see that Bishop Tim may have reacted to the well-known public persona of his predecessor. There may also be something about the Tamar and the fact that Cornwall is only tenuously linked to the rest of our island ;>)

UKViewer said...

There is an argument that crossing the Tamar is akin to crossing the Tiber. I spent 4 years in Plymouth from 67-71 (with occasional absences in Ireland) and crossed the Tamar often. It’s a different world in so many ways.

When Jen and I married, the first holiday we took together was in Cornwall. Loved it and still do. Must go back soon.

26 September 2012 19:27
26 September 2012 15:08
26 September 2012 14:55
Della Jones MBE said...

I have only this morning found this Internet site and was delighted to read the lovely comments about Bishop Tim. Whilst he was Bishop of Sherborne I got to know him pretty well and as everyone says he was a charming, delightful man and I was one of the many who was devastated to see him depart for Truo, but perhaps their Christian need was greater than ours although I doubt it. I have one question which is nagging me: I have received a begging letter from Tim on behalf of the Childrens Society, this has come just a few days after £Millions was raised for the BBC’s Children in Need. I question why the one isn’t helping Christian Children in need or have I got the wrong end of the stick again? Sincerely Della Jones MBE

Charlie said...

Hi Della. The Childrens Society is a really important national charity working with young people. You can read about them on their website

As opposed to Children in Need, which is a fundraising project that distributes the money to projects and charities that are working with children.

22 November 2012 13:21
22 November 2012 09:20
Joyce said...

My chief experience with The Children’s Society was when it was called The Church of England Children’s Society and a Sikh couple I knew applied to it when they they wanted to adopt a child.They knew they would get confidentiality from the C. of E. I was one of the referees – the other was a Roman Catholic Neighbour – and I was interviewed very thoroughly by a lady from the society. The couple gained a lovely daughter. She did well after a very shaky start,having seen her widowed natural mother murdered. Her new parents were well-enough off to send her to independent schools where she flourished.
My godson,now 26, was a pupil at Local Education Authority special schools which were equipped and staffed to a standard beyond anything you’d find in the independent sector.All the same, not every need could be met out of an LEA budget, there being so many and all expensive. Children In Need provided their minibuses.
This is the sort of thing that has made BBC Chidren In Need so popular with the public since the nineteen twenties. Everybody’s child,rich or poor, Christian or Hindu, needs something. Any organisation can ask them for money for or towards something in particular. The Children’s Society could, no doubt,and possibly does so for certain things.
I suppose donating to a specific charity,such as the RNIB,the NSPCC,the RNLI or The Children’s Society is a bit different,in that one knows broadly where one’s money is going to be spent.

22 November 2012 17:27
Tim Guilbride said...

I knew Tim when he was at St Mary Abbotts in Kensington. Whatever his views on same-sex marriage, his approach to the many gay members of the congregation was invariably supportive and inclusive, valuing their contribution to parish dialogue and worship. I always found him unusually intelligent and deep-thinking, and an exceptional leader. In his time in Kensington the numbers of active churchgoers rose significantly, mainly due to his contribution. The Church needs more people like him leading it forward.

21 January 2016 17:51

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