Church of England Splitting ...?

Subject: CofE Bishops Call 1,000 Vicars to Split Church

Two articles of immediate interest from the London Times, this morning:

The Times, London, Sunday, November 9, 1997


by Christopher Morgan, Religious Affairs Correspondent

REBEL Anglican bishops are planning to break away from the Church of England and set up their own independent church.

In what would be the most serious split since the Methodist movement broke away 200 years ago, traditionalist bishops are intending to lead more than 1,000 parishes out of the state church. Their proposals, which will be outlined fully by Christmas, could weaken the church's established status and provoke a financial crisis.

The bishops have been appalled at the liberal drift of the leadership of the Church of England since the decision to ordain women, and point to the "catastrophic decline of Church of England attendance" since 1992.

They and 16 regional deans belonging to Forward In Faith, a traditionalist movement created four years ago, are currently consulting their parishioners on the breakaway. The plan, which was designed by a working party of rebel clerics over the last year, involves setting up an independent Anglican church which would be treated in the same way as the Church in Wales or the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The new institution could be called the Orthodox Province or even the Church in England. The rebels will contact MPs because of the possible constitutional implications for the established church. Prebendary Sam Philpott, chairman of the working party, said: "We are looking for a province which will be independent and self-governing."

The deans are examining how church buildings, vicarages and investment properties would be divided. The new church believes it could take around 1 in 10 of the Church of England's 13,000 parishes with it, and argues that it has a moral, if not legal, claim to a substantial share of its wealth. It could also lay claim to church schools.

Edwin Barnes, Bishop of Richborough and a leading figure in Forward In Faith, said the split was the result of grassroots pressure for more orthodox Christian leadership and teaching. "Great numbers of people are fed up with the direction of the Church of England," he said.

John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham, who gives pastoral care to opponents of women priests in the London area, described the present situation as a nightmare: "We have already got a schism. There is now a readiness to act in the event of a further crisis."

The decision of the bishops to speak out for the first time coincides with the fifth anniversary of the General Synod's decision to approve the ordination of women priests, which made hundreds of Anglican clergy and thousands of worshippers convert to Rome.

Traditionalist bishops are understood to have contacted George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to express their dismay at continued "liberal" appointments of senior clergy and the sidelining of orthodox Christian values. While it is thought that Carey has given an assurance that there will be no women bishops during his tenure, the Forward In Faith movement is not satisfied.

A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury declined to comment when asked about his knowledge of the rebel plans. He said: "These points are complex in nature and entail more than a brief response."

Beresford Skelton, a regional dean and vicar of St Mary Magdalene's, Sunderland, said the momentum behind the plans was unstoppable. "I want to see an orthodox Anglican province established as soon as possible. It is just around the corner: if they don't give it to us, we will have to take it."

Copyright 1997 The Times Newspapers Limited Christopher Morgan Religious Affairs Correspondent The Times Sunday 9 November 1997


The Times, London, Sunday, November 9, 1997


by Christopher Morgan Religious Affairs Correspondent

THE CIVIL war that threatens to tear apart the Church of England began on Armistice Day in 1992. Even as the General Synod voted by the narrowest of margins to allow the ordination of women priests, traditionalist clergy were drawing up battle plans to preserve the authenticity of their beliefs.

This week, as the fifth anniversary of that vote nears, conservative bishops have revealed that the fragile truce between themselves and the modernisers has finally broken.

Under the umbrella of the Forward in Faith movement, they and their regional deans are consulting parishioners on how to form their own independent Anglican church. They expect the plan, which would see up to 1,000 parishes leaving the established church, to be finalised next month.

The proposal to break away is the greatest threat to the church since the Methodist movement was founded more than 200 years ago and could even spell the end of its established status. It is also a bitter blow to those, led by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had hoped to hold together the creaking consensus following the decision to ordain women and the church's new liberal approach to homosexuality.

Strongly supported by Lord Habgood, the former Archbishop of York, and David Hope, his successor, they have been attempting to halt the exodus of clergy and parishioners.

At least 550 clergy have left the church in the past five years, and there are dozens more resignations in the pipeline, according to Forward in Faith. Nearly 400 clergy and thousands of worshippers became Roman Catholics. Under a scheme dubbed "the Roman Option", a number of married Anglican clerics were re-ordained Catholic priests.

High-profile Anglicans who defected included the Duchess of Kent, John Gummer, the former environment secretary, and Anne Widdecombe, the former prisons minister. In an attempt to stem these losses, the synod developed the idea of "two integrities", a doctrine which allowed the church to acknowledge that it retained two distinct entities: those who could accept women's ordination, and those who could not.

The church appointed provincial episcopal visitors - so-called "flying bishops" - to care for the parishes which could not accept women's ordination. They crossed diocesan boundaries, and came into most dioceses where bishops ordain women. Critics, however, attacked the scheme as a dangerous fudge.

The unexpected announcement last week by Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, that he was in favour of lowering the age of consent for gay men to 16, served only to harden the resolve of traditionalists to think the unthinkable and plan for a rebel church. One bishop supporting the split said: "Harries just played into our hands."

Many were also deeply disturbed by the revelations last year of Lord Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, that he had suffered several crises of faith in God and had harboured reservations about the "arranged marriage" of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, at which he officiated.

Edwin Barnes, Bishop of Richborough and a leading light in the breakaway movement, said many worshippers no longer recognised the church as their own. "The Church of England has done such extraordinary things. This move will at least enable both them and us to be honest."

The only comparable break that has occurred in the Church of England since the Reformation was the split by the Methodist movement in 1791. While the followers of John and Charles Wesley remained within the church for most of the 18th century, they formed the Methodist church on the death of John Wesley.

However, the new schism could threaten the very survival of an established church already under pressure because Prince Charles, the heir to the throne and next supreme governor of the church, has declared his wish to be a defender of all faiths.

The established church has existed since 1534, when Henry VIII turned his back on the Roman Catholic Church after the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He appointed himself the supreme governor of the new national church and since then the Church of England has been, by law, the state religion. This has afforded it a unique place in British political life, including the right of 26 bishops to sit in the House of Lords.

The rebel church would enjoy none of these privileges. The dissenters, however, believe that their breakaway congregation will in time grow to such a size that it will undermine the credibility of the Church of England's own claim to be the pre-eminent religion in the land.

John Hawthorne, vicar of Tetbury, near Charles's Highgrove home, and one of the deans discussing the split, warned that the pressure for change being exerted at the grassroots was now unstoppable. "A split is becoming increasingly inevitable. This is not a movement from the top down, it is a movement from the bottom up," he said.

The new Anglicans are already discussing the ensuing battle, how to divide the assets they share with the church and establishing their own governing body.

Stephen Parkinson, director of Forward in Faith, said that 1,000 parishes could be involved on the first day of the new church as at least 900 parishes have already rejected all contact with women priests.

Copyright 1997 The Times Newspapers Limited. Christopher Morgan Religious Affairs Correspondent The Times Sunday 9 November 1997

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