In the face of the increasing heterodoxy of bishops and senior clergy, it is not uncommon for lay people and clergy to question their future in the Church of England (or other
Canterbury-aligned Anglican churches) and sometimes they come to different decisions. The first of this series of blogs looked at how clergy can find themselves institutionalised, the second considered how the sense of calling may affect them.
This rest explore the different situations lay people may find themselves in, suggesting ways they may continue to serve God faithfully, whatever their circumstance.
This blog explores how lay people can help their vicar prepare to leave the Canterbury-aligned structures and start a new congregation. It is important to remember that except in a few circumstances the 'church' cannot leave the Church of England and that setting up a new church will take time.
This is not the place to write a treatise on Church-planting - there are several ministries which provide specific assistance and support in that.
This is, however, the Anglican Futures blog and many readers will be specifically interested in what an Anglican future, outside the Canterbury-aligned structures might look like.
Anglican Network in Europe
As most will know the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) has made specific provision for the faithful in the UK and Europe who are unable to remain in the Canterbury-aligned structures. The chair of Gafcon, Archbishop Foley Beach made clear in May 2023 that it is the only provision Gafcon will make.
There will, of course, continue to be the Free Church of England and various other “continuing” Anglican churches, but Gafcon’s own provision is in the exclusive form of the proto-province which is called the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE).
It currently has two dioceses - the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) and the Anglican Convocation in Europe (ACE). The dioceses are united by the synod and common canons of ANiE, as well as by being served by the same Presiding Bishop, the Right Reverend Andy Lines. Each diocese has its own synod, canons and two assisting bishops. In the case of ACE one of the assistants is based in Scotland and one in Wales.
There are various historical, ecclesiological, geographical and cultural reasons for this structure, which was the design of the Primates (senior archbishops) of Gafcon. In the Lord’s goodness its potential complexity has seemingly turned out to serve the needs of the growing number and diversity of churches in the Network rather well. With the Jersualem Declaration offering the widest possible bounds of legitimate diversity within orthodox Anglicanism, ANiE is committed to ensuring that those with different convictions on spiritual gifts, styles of worship and women's orders can find a home.
ANiE is growing quite rapidly but it is still small. It is, however, part of something massive - Gafcon. For those considering ANiE it is worth understanding that it is something of a reversal of the past - while the English have rather thought of the Church of England birthing, and being the mother church of the Anglican Communion, ANiE has been brought into existence and 'parented' by Gafcon. That requires a certain change of mindset but also explains why Gafcon is so committed to the project and why it is working.
As ANiE continues to expand the plan is to establish four dioceses and then become a Gafcon-recognised province in its own right - much like those in North America and Brazil.
No need to reinvent the wheel
The faithful leaving the CoE/SEC/CiW will find pathways and help with planning readily available from ANiE. There is now no need to 're-invent the wheel'. Whatever type of new ministry is anticipated, including however small it may be, ANiE will have dealt with such a situation before and be able to advise upon a proper approach to such matters as suitable episcopal oversight, legalities, finances, practicalities, constitutions, ecclesiological issues etc. Anglican Futures has considerable experience of helping churches and other Christian organisations form new charitable structures.
It should be remembered that the PCC are obligated to act always in the best interests of the charity, which is the PCC. Those fiduciary duties are important, and any thought of trying to exit funds or retain property or other assets and the like must be put in that context. Lay people who are not on the PCC are not constrained in the same way. If they, for example, suggest to others in the congregation that their giving might better be simply withheld for now, diverted to meet the needs of an uncertain future, then nothing can be done to them. If they begin to explore whether there is a critical mass who feel similarly and want to start a new church.
Anglican Futures explored issues of allowing clergy to 'leave well' in an earlier blog. The same goes for those leaving. Everything that can be done to remain on good terms with those who remain at the parish church should be done. When the aim is to either multiply gospel ministry or provide a faithful church where there is not one, it may seem difficult to see much objection. However, the emotional cost for all involved of such a decision should not be underestimated and it is important not to allow the decision to leave to become a vehicle for other issues - as this may lead to enduring animosity.
Anglican Futures is committed to providing practical and pastoral support to all faithful Anglicans (wherever they receive their episcopal oversight) as they discern where their future lies.
Those struggling in the Canterbury-aligned structures can feel particularly isolated. Anglican Futures understands this and seeks to provide spaces where like-minded people, both lay people and clergy can gather.
“Close to the Edge” is a fortnightly, confidential online meeting for those for whom those issues are becoming real. It sometimes has a specific theme but functions as an informal “drop-in” for anyone who wants a community of the potentially like-minded where they can ask questions, seek answers and pray for the future together. It is open to lay people and clergy.
“On the Edge” is a free, confidential, residential 24 hours away for clergy or laity. All, but especially the former are encouraged to bring their families given the possible impact on them of a changed Anglican future. A small team leads a programme considering the present position of the Church of England (CoE)/Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC)/Church in Wales (CiW), and the issues, possibilities and practicalities arising, all in the context of prayer, worship and fellowship. Many have attended and they show that the residentials are not a conveyor belt out of the Canterbury-aligned structures. The majority who have attended, at least for now, remain in those Churches and have valued the help to do so.
Anglican Futures also offer personal bespoke, online consultations for those who desire them, but these two ministries reduce the demands on resources and build “cohorts” of supportive people. Nonetheless, the personal offer remains for those who need it.
Anglican Futures offers practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans
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With thanks to Sun Lingyan from Unsplash for the image