Divided church seeks divine intervention

Jonathan Foster visits Lincoln Cathedral as it strives to heal wounds after dean's acquittal
A divine rapid reaction force was implored yesterday to intervene in the bitterly-divided Anglican enclave around Lincoln Cathedral as the dean, acquitted of adultery, returned jauntily to clerical duties.

The Very Rev Brandon Jackson, 60, presided over communion for the first time since ending 17 months in the wilderness over allegations that he twice fondled a verger, 32-year-old Verity Freestone.

A church court last week decided the alleged fondling had not taken place, but desperate groping for power continues between the populist dean's supporters and their critics around the episcopal throne.

The Bishop of Lincoln, The Rt Rev Robert Hardy, was preaching 200 miles away in Kent when Dean Jackson told the congregation: "I am very glad to be back in harness to continue our shared mission."

But several members of the chapter, the "cabinet" government which is supposed to share administration of the diocese, were absent, understood to be skulking in the cloisters.

God's powers of love and forgiveness could remedy all Lincoln's troubles, the dean said. "The dark cloud which has settled over this cathedral is still here, but I still dare to believe in God's power."

The dean had earlier blamed the bishop for "disgracefully" allowing Ms Freestone's allegations to be detailed in public before the consistory court. He suspects a conspiracy, with roots deep in diocesan politics, had been hatched to get rid of him. But yesterday he spoke of love and forgiveness.

So did Canon John Bayley, in whose parish the cathedral stands. Preaching the sermon, Canon Bayley also summoned God to intervene, although he warned that the "gift of love is not going to flow out of us" without first allowing God to guide earthly actions.

"We all prostrate ourselves in penitence before God our judge and try to measure our behaviour. Is there honesty or love or forgiveness in our hearts, or should we confess to God that we don't know how to love, how to forgive the way that Jesus teaches us?"

The service ended with Stainer's hymn of boundless redemption: "There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea."

The Lincoln laity have been "confused and distressed" by the rifts, to such an extent that a Chapter letter yesterday offered them counselling. Most were pleased to welcome back their dean, but the clerical quarrels are too esoteric and irritating to involve the average worshipper.

If the Church of England is still the Tory party at prayer, the cabinet crisis of the Lincoln chapter is more likely to alienate than polarise. Dean Jackson, dubbed "Thatcher's vicar" after his appointment to bring fiscal discipline to the Chapter, is held privately in contempt by cloister intellectuals. But clerics were yesterday circulating a makeshift ecclesiastical lobby like Sir Marcus Fox in a dog collar, claiming implausibly that the trouble was more to do with presentation than policy.

Dean Jackson mixed with worshippers over coffee in the chapter house. The women seemed pleased to have him back in circulation, and the men praised him for the virtue middle England laity admire most in their priests.

"He's very approachable, and you can understand his sermons, which is more than you can say for that lot who want him out," one man said. And then the congregation united against the media, expelling reporters from the coffee morning after one asked if Dean Jackson favoured Gold Blend.