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Michael Turnbull (bishop)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Michael Turnbull

Former Bishop of Durham
In office1994–2003
PredecessorDavid Jenkins
SuccessorN. T. Wright
Other post(s)Honorary assistant bishop in Canterbury, Rochester & Europe (2003–present)
Bishop of Rochester
Ordination1960 (deacon); 1961 (priest)
Consecration29 September 1988[1]
Personal details
Born (1935-12-27) 27 December 1935 (age 86)
Alma mater

Anthony Michael Arnold Turnbull CBE (born 27 December 1935) is a retired Church of England bishop. He was ordained in 1961 and in 1988 he was consecrated as the Bishop of Rochester.[2] In 1994, he became the Bishop of Durham until he retired in 2003.[3] In his retirement, Turnbull continues "preaching and teaching and writing".[4]


Turnbull was born in Wombwell, West Riding of Yorkshire. His early education was in Ilkley Grammar School, a co-educational secondary school in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, England, that specialises in humanities and sciences.[5]

Turnbull studied at Keble College, Oxford, graduating in 1958 with a MA. He prepared for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall and St John's College, University of Durham, graduating with a Diploma in Theology.[3][5]

He began his ministry in 1960 as a deacon and curate of Middleton in the Diocese of Manchester.[6]

Positions as priest

Turnbull was ordained priest in 1961 in Manchester Cathedral. As a priest, he held the following positions:[2]

Positions as bishop

As a bishop, Turnbull held the following positions:[2]

Bishop of Rochester

In 1988, Turnbull was consecrated as the Bishop of Rochester. During his episcopacy, "a major [two year] training programme for local evangelists was established".[7] In a 1994 speech in Church House, Westminster just before his translation to the Diocese of Durham Turnbull was "Asked what he was proudest of among his accomplishments in Rochester, Kent, he replied that the diocese had opened six new churches, and planned to open four more; and that he had set up an order of lay evangelists."[8]

Bishop of Durham

From 1994 (he was translated on 6 July and enthroned on 22 October) until his retirement in 2003, Turnbull was the Bishop of Durham, the fourth most senior bishop in the Church of England with a seat in the House of Lords. He was active in the House of Lords as the lead bishop on constitutional affairs and was prominent in the movement towards regional government in the North East.[3]

In his 1994 speech in Church House, Westminster just before his translation to Durham Turnbull asserted his belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus, and in Hell, although maybe not as eternal damnation.[8]

In a 1998 survey of Church of England bishops about "possibility of alien life on other worlds," Turnbull said the discovery of other life could be a positive force. "God created all life. If it were possible to engage with life on other planets it would open our lives to the greater wonders of God's creation."[9]

By 2003, Turnbull had been made an Honorary Fellow of St Chad's College, Durham and awarded honorary doctorates from Durham University (DD) and from the University of Greenwich.[3] In 2003, he was appointed CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2003 for services to the North East and to the Church of England.[2]

As Bishop of Durham, Turnbull led a diocese with 1.4 million members. He was paid a salary of £23,610 a year; he received free accommodation in Auckland Castle; and he was given a Vauxhall Carlton plus chauffeur.[5]

In Durham, Turnbull took the Diocese into a new era of Clergy deployment and pastoral delivery.[3] However, an online magazine reported that Turnbull had presided "over the most catastrophic decline in Church membership and attendance in Durham diocese's modern history while its finances are correspondingly parlous. No diocese in the Church of England has declined more spectacularly in recent years."[10]

For his last four years in Durham, Turnbull was "chairman of the North East Constitutional Assembly, trying to draw up plans for an elected regional assembly".[4]

Homosexuality issue

In his 1994 speech in Church House, Westminster just before his enthronement as bishop of the Diocese of Durham Turnbull was asked what his policy regarding gay clergy would be. He replied that: "An admitted and open lifestyle is incompatible with full-time ministry."[8]

Despite his speaking out against homosexual clergy, in 1994 the News of the World reported that the bishop had been convicted of an act of gross indecency with a Yorkshire farmer. The offence occurred on 30 August 1968, as undercover policemen kept watch on public toilets in Hull. On 13 September at Hull magistrate's court, Turnbull, who at the time was chaplain to the Archbishop of York, pleaded guilty and was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £6.30.[11]

The disclosure of Turnbull's gross indecency conviction came just four weeks before his scheduled enthronement. His past was known to the archbishops of Canterbury George Carey and York Stuart Blanch, to Lord Runcie, the previous archbishop and to Lord Coggan, whom Turnbull had acted as chaplain when the offence took place.[12]

According to close associates, Turnbull "seriously considered withdrawing" from his enthronement "when his past was revealed." In his sermon during his enthronement, Turnbull spoke of the "gravity of sin" and of his "repentance". He told the congregation that he had been "through a private and now public process of repentance", and that he was "deeply sorry" that friends had to share in the consequences of his past. His sermon also touched on the "depth of forgiveness" by many fellow Christians.[12]

Outside the cathedral, the leader of the pressure group OutRage!, Peter Tatchell, and others protested "against what they saw as [Turnbull's] hypocrisy".[12]

1995 BBC interview

In a 1995 radio interview on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Turnbull said, "I think the conversation and the process of what the church thinks, believes, decides and disciplines in this area [homosexuality] does need urgent attention." Furthermore, he added, "to be honest, I'm disappointed that three years after the document 'Issues in Human Sexuality' [referring to the 1991 report by the House of Bishops], we haven't got further down the line in exploring this on a wide basis within the church." He said it was premature for individual bishops to accept the idea of clergy living openly in a homosexual relationship, but added, "I do know of many homosexuals — at least of some homosexuals, both clergy and lay people — who are amongst the most gifted and loving and committed people within church life". Asked whether, in view of his experience, a double standard existed within the church concerning clergy dismissed after a similar conviction, Turnbull said he thought it was unfair to compare a situation where a person's ministry had been rebuilt with cases in which the details are unknown. "I could, but I won't, name clergy who are in exactly the same position as me and who have had their ministries rebuilt after some kind of misdemeanour which was untypical, out of character, or who in fact needed help," he said.[13]

Archbishop's Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England

Much of Turnbull's ministry has been England focused on reorganisation of its administrative structures. In 1995, George Carey appointed Turnbull as chair of the Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England with the task of producing a plan to save the Church of England. The commission was given the nickname "Turnbull Commission."[10][14]

During the December 1995 Church of England Synod, Turnbull, reporting on the work of the commission, proposed a National Council with broad executive powers under the leadership of the archbishops of Canterbury and York. "Leadership, policy direction and strategic and executive responsibility are too fragmented and weak," Turnbull said during the debate. "The church at the national level clearly needs to work better as one body, not as some kind of dismembered jellyfish. Staying as we are and trying to tread water is not an option," he said. Other members of the Synod challenged the proposals as too much centralization. Turnbull's report passed by a vote of 239 to 167. However, the stiff opposition meant that the proposal was revised and returned for further debate in February 1996.[14]

A report on the work and proposals of the commission was published on 1 January 1995 as Working as One Body: The Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England with a foreword by the Archbishops and a Preface by Chairman Turnbull.[15]

In the proposal of the Turnbull Commission, "the whole Church of England, money and everything, would have been run by the central committee". But the proposal was not executed. The Church Commissioners remained in existence, and in control of the money.[16] The only reform executed was that he Archbishops' Council was established in 1999 "to co-ordinate, promote, aid and further the mission of the Church of England. It is composed of 19 members and 7 directors whose task is to give a clear sense of direction to the Church nationally and support the Church locally".[17] Turnbull was subsequently appointed Chairman of the Ministry Division of the Archbishops' Council.[3]

In 1995, after the Report of the Turnbull Commission was published, Hugh Craig, a member of the Council of the Church Society and who had served as a Church Commissioner wrote a critical review with the title "The Turnbull Report: An Analysis".[18]

Turnbull's other posts have included member of the Commission on English Cathedrals (1992–94), Vice Chairman of the Central Board of Finance (1990–1998), board member of the Church Commissioners (1989–1998), chairman of the North East Constitutional Convention (1999–2003) and Campaign for English Regions (2000–2003), chairman of the Bible Reading Fellowship (1985–1994) and of the College of Preachers (1990–1998) and the Council of Scargill House (1969–1976).[citation needed]


Turnbull and his wife Brenda retired to Sandwich, Kent in the south of England to be closer to their three children and seven grandchildren.[4] Turnbull continues "preaching and teaching and writing in his retirement, as well as indulging in his favourite pastimes of walking and cricket."[4]

In retirement, Turnbull serves as an honorary assistant bishop in the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester and Europe. Each Honorary Assistant Bishop holds the Commission because either (a) he is the currently serving bishop in office of a Church or Diocese on the Continent in Communion with the Church of England or (b) for some other reason or expertise the Bishop has invited him to accept his Commission to minister as a bishop in our Diocese.[19]

The Foundation for Church Leadership

Turnbull has also served as Chairman of the Foundation for Church Leadership, Rochester, United Kingdom. From that position he wrote a chapter about the Foundation in a 2004 book Creative Church Leadership. In that chapter Turnbull wrote that "there has been a cultural shift in society as a whole from hierarchical to more corporate ways of doing things". In contrast, he continued, "the church has become locked into" an hierarchical "institutional framework" in which "authoritarianism of the worst kind" can be practiced. So, continued Turnbull, "it is time to go back to our roots and ask theological questions about the nature of 'church' and 'leadership'". To do this, the Foundation for Church Leadership was formed.[20]

The notion of church leadership questioned

At the introductory conference of the Foundation, Turnbull declared: "A question never far from the mind of a church leader in 'How can I break out of institutional shackles and be the true adventurous leader I want to be?'" In a 2013 book, Justin Lewis-Anthony questioned the presumptions of "true adventurous leader", arguing that "leadership is a myth."[21] For Lewis-Anthony, being a "leader" is "antithetical to the model, ministry and challenge of being a disciple of Jesus Christ". A bishop should be a disciple who helps "others to become disciples as well".[22]

Deputy Lieutenant

In 2005, Turnbull was appointed a deputy lieutenant in the county of Kent along with twelve other citizens of Kent. The appointees were "honoured for their positive contribution to the county and/or the nation".[2]

The Church Housing Trust

The Church Housing Trust raises "funds for homeless individuals, some of whom have high support needs, who would not otherwise receive extra support." When its new facilities were opened in April 2010, the ribbon was cut by Turnbull, a Patron of the Trust." As of 2015, he continued as one of the nine Patrons of the Trust.[23][24]

Two examples of Turnbull's preaching while in retirement

On 14 July 2013, Turnbull preached at both services at St Mary’s Church, St Mary’s Road, East Molesey, Surrey. He encouraged the congregation as the parish began a "new Mission Initiative".[25]

On 25 June 2016, Turnbull preached at a Choral Evensong at St. James Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, United States, in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday.[26]



Parish Evangelism: a Practical Resource Book for the Local Church (London: Mowbrays, 1980)
God's Front Line (London: Mowbrays, 1979)
Learning to Pray (London: Mowbray, 1981)
The State of the Church and the Church of the State, Coauthor with Donald McFadyen (Paperback: Darton Longman and Todd, 2012; Digital: Andrews UK Limited, 2012)

Contributions to books

Working as One Body: The Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England (Church House Publishing, 1 January 1995) Preface by Chairman Turnbull.
The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder it (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2006). Foreword by Bishop Michael Turnbull.
Gordon Kuhrt, Ministry Issues for the Church of England: Mapping the Trends (Church House Publishing, 2001). Chapter 32 "The Parish System" by Michael Turnbull.
John Adair and John Nelson, eds, Creative Church Leadership (Canterbury Press, 2004). Chapter 17 "The Foundation for Church Leadership" by Michael Turnbull.

Quoted in book

Steven Croft, ed., The Future of the Parish System: Shaping the Church of England for the Twenty-first Century (Church House Publishing, 2010). Contains quotations on page 155 from Turnbull.


  1. ^ Europe Diocese – Prayer Diary, 2011–2012[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f "New Deputy Lieutenants announced". Kent Online. 3 March 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Graduation Success". Durham University. 30 June 2003. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d "Bishop of Durham to retire". BBC News. 26 August 2002. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "How much does he earn?: No 48: The Rt Rev Michael Turnbull, Bishop of Durham". The Independent. 1 October 1994. Archived from the original on 14 May 2022. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  6. ^ Garth Turner, Cathedrals and Change in the Twentieth Century (2011), 239.
  7. ^ Robert Warren, Signs of Life: How Goes the Decade of Evangelism (Church House Publishing, 1995), 17.
  8. ^ a b c Brown, Andrew (3 February 1994). "Durham's next bishop eschews controversy: Michael Turnbull believes in the Virgin Birth and in Hell". The Independent. Archived from the original on 14 May 2022. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  9. ^ Maurice Chittendon, "Anglican Bishops Believe In Alien Life" in The London Sunday Times (5-7-98).
  10. ^ a b "Comment" in Trushare (February 2003).
  11. ^ Herald Scotland, "Churchmen Deplore Revelation on Bishop" (25 Sep 1994). Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  12. ^ a b c Cusick, James (22 October 1994). "Gays mar bishop's day". The Independent. Archived from the original on 14 May 2022. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  13. ^ "Durham Bishop Wants Action on Homosexuality Questions". The Living Church. Morehouse-Gorham Company. 210: 7. 8 January 1996.
  14. ^ a b "Reorganization plan proceeds". Episcopal News Service. 12 December 1995. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  15. ^ Working as One Body: The Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England (Church House Publishing, 1 January 1995).
  16. ^ ""Michael Turnbull, Bishop of Durham." Retrieved 8 May 2016". Archived from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  17. ^ "Structure" Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  18. ^ Hugh Craig, "The Turnbull Report: An Analysis"
  19. ^ "Honorary Assistant Bishops". Diocese in Europe. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  20. ^ John Adair and John Nelson, eds, Creative Church Leadership (Canterbury Press, 2004), 219–221.
  21. ^ Justin Lewis-Anthony, You are the Messiah and I should know: Why Leadership is a Myth (and probably a Heresy) (Bloomsbury, 2013), xiii.
  22. ^ Justin Lewis-Anthony, "The New Archbishop of Canterbury Should Be a Disciple Rather than a Leader" in The Guardian, 4 February 2013.
  23. ^ The Church Housing Trust
  24. ^ "Church Housing Trust: Annual Report and Financial Statements 31 March 2015". Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  25. ^ "To Speak at St Mary’s"
  26. ^ "Choral Evensong in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's 90th Birthday."
Church of England titles
Preceded by Archdeacon of Rochester
Succeeded by
Preceded by Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
Preceded by Bishop of Durham
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 4 July 2022, at 11:45
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