Jo Bailey Wells named chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed the Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells, currently director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, as chaplain of Lambeth Palace. From Anglican Communion News Service:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is delighted to announce 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.

Speaking about her new position, Dr Jo Bailey Wells said: “I am honoured and delighted to be joining Archbishop Justin’s team at Lambeth as he takes on a heavy but exciting mantle. I look forward to supporting him personally and pastorally – above all by praying for his flourishing in that role – and so to facilitating the wider flourishing of God’s people in God’s church.”

Read more here.

In a March 2010 story about the election of Mary Glasspool, a lesbian, as suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, Wells offered the following to Daniel Burke of Religion News Service:

“The Episcopal Church, by its actions, is demonstrating that it no longer values its place under the historic headship of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and therefore the Anglican Communion,” Wells said.

The confirmation of a second openly gay bishop is even more significant than the first, Wells said, since the consequences—widespread dissent in the communion and persecution of Anglicans in countries where homosexuality is reviled—are clear.

Welby recently appointed a canon for reconciliation. Is the appointment of Wells consistent with reconciliation? In March 2009, in an article in The Durham News, Wells sounded like a reconciler (continues below the fold):

“The Episcopal Church has come to see gay rights as an issue on par with the civil rights of the ’60s, an issue that must be acted upon now,” says Wells. “There’s a sense in which Episcopalians have been in a hurry to progress on this front and because Episcopalians have led the way, other denominations have stood back and watched. Here at Duke Divinity School, there are plenty of students who watch what goes on and definitely seek to learn from it.”

“We try our best to understand each other,” said Sam Keyes, 27, a postulant for holy orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, one of the dioceses that has split from the national Episcopal Church [The Episcopal Church has a diocese of the same name]. Keyes will graduate from Duke Divinity School this spring. “There’s a commitment from the start that we’re going to maintain our friendship and manage our disagreements in peace. We do talk and get angry sometimes. But it’s important not to act as if the disagreements don’t exist.”

Many attribute the continued openness between the Anglican (sic) and Episcopal students to the leadership of Wells, who was recruited from her native Great Britain three and a half years ago to form AEHS. She is widely praised among students for her ability to remain neutral and serve as a bridge between students with traditionalist and liberal viewpoints at the divinity school.

“She makes a particular effort to see that we have honest and often challenging conversations about our differences,” said Ross Kane, 29, a master’s student from Virginia who hopes to be in parish ministry in the Episcopal Church following his graduation in May. “I think that goes a long way because it prevents us from seeking only like-minded people. Division becomes much easier when you don’t have to face the person you disagree with … .”

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  1. Ann Fontaine

    So much for reconciliation – another TEC hater.

  2. GrandmèreMimi

    “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

    (Rabbi Hillel)

    I expect more attempts to throw the Episcopal Church under the bus, and I find myself caring less and less.

    June Butler

  3. I’m with Mimi. This has so little to do with who I am trying to understand who I am to be as a Christian, I care less and less. The Christ I follow tells me to be inclusive past the point it makes me squeamish and let God do the work, not me. My job is to continue to be faithful and in the tension. I feel like if we in TEC do that, we are being Anglican–we are remaining in the tension yet continuing to desire to share the Sacraments with those who differ with us. If that makes THEM uncomfortable, then they will have to kick us out. In my mind, what I do is the theological equivalent to going limp at a protest. They will have to drag me away without my cooperation. I’m good with breaking bread with those who think I’m an unrepentant sinner and I think they’re fools…how do they feel about that in reverse?

  4. John B. Chilton

    I don’t want to jump to conclusions from a few words that was probably one of the many quotes she gave the author of the RNS piece. I don’t think there’s enough known about her in the public domain to draw a conclusion, but there is enough to raise concern. I would like her to come forth and say where she stands. Because appointments are a reflection of the appointer — in this case Welby.

  5. Kara Slade

    Jo was my M. Div. advisor and a mentor to me and many other students across the theological spectrum. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be in ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church if it weren’t for her wise pastoral leadership. She is the real deal.

  6. Jordan Hylden

    I think all of us from Duke, who are certainly not of one mind vis-a-vis the issues discussed, are united in our high esteem for Jo and her ministry at AEHS.

    I would question the idea that disagreement with TEC’s actions, and criticism of them, is incompatible with reconciliation.

    If interested in more of her views on these issues, I’d recommend this op-ed:

    My own view is that she will do an excellent job at helping the new ABC work toward reconciliation in our sadly broken Communion. In +Welby’s words:

    “Conflict is an ever present reality both in the church and wider society. Christians have been at the centre of reconciliation throughout history. We may not have always handled our own conflicts wisely, but it is essential that we work towards demonstrating ways of reducing destructive conflict in our world – and also to setting an example of how to manage conflict within the church.”

  7. Jordan, the op-ed to which you link is 5 years old. Is there something more recent that Jo Bailey Wells has written that would be helpful and give us more hope?

    Gene Robinson and American imperialism are hardly a good start toward giving us confidence that Wells is a true reconciler.

    June Butler

  8. ches kennedy

    Jo also advised me at Duke Divinity School. She also interviewed me before being accepted… we had a conversation I will never forget. I told Jo that I was gay and worried about being in divinity school. Jo assured me that it might not be easy. But, she also assured me that there were lots of different viewpoints and that mine would be just as important– and welcomed– as the others. I learned more about “being with the other” in the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke than I did sequestered away in an Episcopal Seminary. That was thanks to Jo’s leadership and ability to bring the most unlikely people to the table. She is a skilled and thoughtful priest and will be an asset to the Archbishop and the Communion.

    Jo has continued to encourage me in my own discernment process and has stood with me through difficult times. She is a blessing to me.

  9. Jim Naughton

    Many people whom I admire and trust are excited about this appointment. I don’t doubt what they say about Jo Bailey Wells. I don’t doubt any of the testimonials offered here. Nonetheless, she said something that I think was both false and damaging about the Episcopal Church when the church was in a vulnerable moment.

    She can simultaneously be an extremely gifted teacher and mentor and someone who in an academic setting has done reconciling work, and someone who was willing to articulate what were basically the anti-TEC ACNA talking points of that moment. She can simultaneously be someone who encourages LGBT people in their individual ministries, but who is willing to work against the Episcopal Church in the context of the communion for moving more quickly on LGBT issues that Rowan Williams wanted us to.

  10. Well said, Jim.

    I’m willing to give Wells the benefit of the doubt and see how her reconciliation skills work in real life in the Anglican Communion and in the Church of England.

    June Butler

  11. tgflux

    I told Jo that I was gay and worried about being in divinity school. Jo assured me that it might not be easy. But, she also assured me that there were lots of different viewpoints and that mine would be just as important– and welcomed– as the others.

    Ches, I understand you’re trying to reassure us re Dr Wells, but your testimony above leaves me DEEPLY uneasy.

    You’re a PERSON—created and loved in the Image of God—not a “viewpoint”. Your welcome AS a person should not be relative to anyone else’s. Does she get that?

    I’m certainly ready to give Dr Wells the benefit of the doubt in her new position. But I do have doubts.

    JC Fisher

  12. Fred Brown

    As a psychologist, one of the things I tell certain patients is, “If you look at the world through excrement colored glasses, is it any surprise that everything looks like excrement?” Of course, being an Army psychologist I used somewhat more colorful language. It troubles me, assuming all who comment are Christian, that Jo is judged according to the lens through which they see their issues and positions, and weight such microscopic samples of her words according to their pre-determined perspective, rather than seeing her as a person.

    I, too, was a Duke Divinity student under Jo’s leadership in the Anglican house. She is and was always first concerned with people; and, yes, these people came with a variety of viewpoints. The people from Duke who have commented here have years of experience with the person of Jo Wells, and I join them in whole heartedly endorsing her selection as chaplain. She was able to create the conditions for a unique community of Christian people who brought with them various understandings of God’s will in the world; and it worked and flourished. All of us talked and argued and listened, but more importantly we worshiped and lived in community. I pray all of us not only give her the “benefit of the doubt” (which, unfortunately seems to assume doubt), but give her our fullest unconditional love and support. God Bless You, Jo in God’s latest adventure for you and your family!



  13. ches kennedy

    Do not be “deeply uneasy” about my exchange with Jo. She was speaking the truth and I appreciated it! You should be more disturbed by the faculty member who interviewed me at another Seminary and answered my concerns with “we dealt with that years ago.” I wanted to reply “REALLY? Could you tell the rest of The Church?”

    By the way, Hi Fred, Kara+, and Jordan! Peace!!

  14. Ann Fontaine

    Thanks for the personal stories – -my problem with Wells is that she shows an anti US bias that was one of the issues with Rowan Williams. For a reconciler to immediately accuse one side of being intransigent and repeating an unproven link between supporting gays and lesbians and persecution of Anglicans by Muslims makes me think she just wants us to be “good boys and girls” . Standing up for equality of rights and rites is not being uppity americans. It is a justice thing. There really is no middle ground on this.

  15. We know the new ABC’s view on same-sex civil marriage, which is quite discouraging to those of us who believe in equality. Is the Rev Wells’ view likely to be different?

    If anyone can point me to more recent writing by the new chaplain, I’d greatly appreciate it. After having been scolded and corrected for 10 years by the previous ABC, some of us in the Episcopal Church are apt to flinch when we read similar criticism from a person recently appointed to a high office in the Church of England.

    June Butler

  16. Clint Davis

    Oh dear. I understand Bishop Epting’s doubt that an Anglican Communion still really exists, after reading stuff like this. If anything, I think the current reality exists not just because of our differences in discipline concerning sexuality issues, but as well because of our differences in how we view the relationship of the Province with the Communion and with the Archbishop of Canterbury.


    There’s nothing to be done with the appointment. TEC “exclusivism” aside, the rest of us have no input in who runs or helps run the supposed first among equals in the alleged communion. She’s there, don’t trust her.

    -Mark Brunson

  18. When The Episcopal Church has made the decisions we have made regarding the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, we have done it in full knowledge that neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor a substantial portion of the Anglican Communion (not to mention a sizable minority in our own church) agreed with those decisions. We made them anyway, at least in part as an act of ecclesiastical disobedience.

    I find it a bit disingenuous, then, that we continue to pretend to be victims of the larger Communion and insist that, as George W. Bush famously said “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I believe Jesus said the opposite. I’m a bit amused that Jim writes about TEC being in a “vulnerable moment.” We CHOSE that moment, and as arguably the wealthiest province in the Anglican Communion, we can hardly claim the mantle of persecuted minority.

    If there is indeed no “middle ground,” then there is no hope of reconciliation–the rest of the Anglican Communion either has to capitulate to our views or we to theirs. My hope is that the “middle ground” is that we see LGBTQ inclusion as important, but not a foundational issue or “core doctrine” of our faith. We should be able to work with those with whom we do not agree on this issue to address other issues such as poverty, women’s rights, and other Millennium Development Goals. If we are not able to do so, than we are little better than our ACNA brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Let us sit back and see how things unfold rather than choosing up sides less than a month after the new Archbishop of Canterbury takes office!

  19. Can anyone confirm that Jo Well is the first woman to serve as chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury? I believe so, but can’t be certain.

    I didn’t go to Duke but on the handful of occasions when I’ve met Jo Wells I’ve found her to be a gifted, talented, and formidable cleric. I’m particularly grateful for her outstanding work with the Episcopal Church in Sudan, which should be a model for the rest of the Communion. I hope this new position allows her an opportunity to build on that.

  20. Ann Fontaine

    Just because we have irreconcilable differences about the inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church – does not mean we cannot work together on poverty, violence, etc. I do not cut people off because we have one area where we disagree and there is no middle ground. I have only seen those who disagree with TEC cutting off all work with each other. Indaba is working because we don’t allow our differences to keep us away from our common work.

  21. Jim Naughton

    I am glad I could amuse you, Tom. Perhaps I can entertain you further.

    We were in a vulnerable position in 2010 when Mary Glasspool was elected. We were in danger to being marginalized in the Communion or even kicked out until the Church of England’s dioceses rejected the covenant, and the mechanism by which we could have been kicked out died. At that vulnerable moment the Rev. Bailey Wells spoke the talking points of the people trying to push us out. Were she appointed to any sort of similarly influential position in the secular world people would go back over the record of her public statements. They would find and statement like this and they would make note of it. People in the church are not above being held accountable for their past statements.

    I think you are wrong about the civil disobedience stuff as well. I worked for full inclusion despite the disapproval of the folks you cite because I think discriminating against LGBT people is a sin, and I thought I and we needed to repent of it as fast as possible. I think many others felt the same way. Civil disobedience had nothing to do with it.

    To my knowledge no one in the Episcopal Church has stopped working with anyone else in the Anglican Communion who differs with them on LGBT issues of their own accord. Some of the strongest advocates for inclusion have actually gone to Africa and reached out to people with whom they disagree to initiate conversations.

    Finally, here is what middle ground is: when you and I disagree, you allow me to act on my conscience. This is all the Episcopal Church was asking to do, to act on its conscience. It was Rowan Williams who wanted us to act on his conscience. And acting on someone else’s conscience rather than your own is also a sin.

  22. Geoffrey McLarney

    It troubles me … that Jo is judged according to the lens through which they see their issues and positions, and weight such microscopic samples of her words according to their pre-determined perspective, rather than seeing her as a person

    Well, quite! But as JCF points out, queer people don’t see ourselves as “issues and positions,” just people. Those who spin our inclusion as egress from the Communion aren’t disagreeing with some abstract proposition, but closing the door on real breathing Christians. If it is unfair for people to have a hard time “seeing her as a person,” was it not unfair when the shoe was on the other foot?

  23. Cynthia Katsarelis

    I find Ms. Wells comments disturbing, and in this piece as well:

    1. LGBT are PEOPLE not positions or abstract issues. And our suffering is quite real, as is Jesus call to love our neighbors and not judge. Her call to throw us under a bus is not appreciated and can not be viewed as loving, reconciling, or even Christian.

    2. The American context includes a loud “Christian” presence saying that God hates fags. We have a high suicide rate amongst LGBT teens because of this message and we need to be a healing force saying, without hypocrisy, God Loves You!!! We need it to save our very own CHILDREN, let alone alleviate the suffering of us adults.

    3. The UK probably doesn’t have the high suicide rate amongst LGBT teens, but only because the CoE has become irrelevant in the lives of the broader public. In the face of horrific discrimination, the British public left the church.

    4. Wells position supports Rowans, which was APPEASEMENT with evil. You don’t achieve human rights by appeasing evil!!!!! You achieve it by acknowledging human rights and working for it.

    5. The idea that we have to suspend basic human rights to appease abusers is INSANE.

    6. As Ann pointed out, and my 3rd World experience bears this out, it is possible to talk, and to work together on poverty, health, education, etc., without agreeing on everything.

    7. The CoE is a mess and they have no credibility to dictate to us. I find Ms. Wells statements “imperial” and “colonial.”

    I’m glad that Ms. Wells is a terrific mentor, etc. But her stated public positions are ridiculous, hateful, and uninspiring, to say the very least.

    Ms. Wells would do well to keep her Anglican imperial statements to herself and work things out in England. There, the majority of CoE member support both marriage equality and consecration of women bishops (they are BEHIND on woman bishops!!!) and the member sentiment is not in alignment with their upper management. This is a mess. Dictating to TEC isn’t what they need to be doing.

  24. There is nothing wrong with holding a person in a public position accountable for their statements.

    And while I’m writing, I may as well get this off my chest, too.

    “The Episcopal Church, by its actions, is demonstrating that it no longer values its place under the historic headship of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and therefore the Anglican Communion,” Wells said.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury is the first among equals of the primates in the Anglican Communion. The autonomous churches of the communion are not under the “headship” of the ABC – at least not in my view.

    Besides, “headship” is a loaded term, often used by persons who wish to keep women in a subservient position.

    June Butler

  25. Cynthia Katsarelis

    Good point, June.

    In November, when their Synod didn’t get enough votes to pass the legislation to consecrate women bishop’s, there were a lot of speeches. Sure enough, “male headship” was one of the arguments.

    The ABC is selected by a small handful of generally unknown people, with no international representation (oops, Wales was represented!!!). +Mary Glasspool received many more votes than has any ABC.

    How anyone can think that this method of selection could possibly be construed as legitimate “headship” outside of the UK is just bizarre. It is historical. If the person has strong moral authority, hooray. Otherwise, yawn.

    I know people who are friends of ++Justin’s. I’m going to give him a chance. But the Jo Bailey Wells appointment is not auspicious.

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