Last Thursday, the Fellowship of the Confessing Anglicans in the United Kingdom (FCA) announced the formation of a new mission society, the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE). You can find the story here. Charles Raven has already commented on it here in a terrific article.
The press release gave a brief outline of some of the salient details but didn’t give much away. It’s therefore unsurprising that this significant move in the Church of England did not receive the press coverage that it might otherwise have done. Perhaps that’s what the people behind AMiE wanted. Maybe they’re not interested in making a big splash and would prefer the news to filter out under the radar. Me; I’d want to make a noise. But that’s why I’m not involved in these delicate negotiations! But I’m sure that there are faithful Anglicans, especially in this country, who would rejoice that after three years of apparent inactivity the FCA has finally done something more substantial than run a conference.
To get to grips with what AMiE is and why it’s important you could just look at Charles’ article. But this is the summary of what I said in an e-mail to CCB.
What is it?
AMiE has been established as a society within the Church of England. Apparently there are lots of them. It’s a bit like a non-geographical Diocese. Dedicated to the conversion of England and biblical church planting, it’s also an attempt to ensure that Anglican Evangelicals can remain within the Church of England without compromising their convictions. It’s a society that will allow Anglican Evangelicals to express their confessional loyalty to the doctrine of 39 Articles without necessarily needing to maintain an institutional loyalty to a theologically wayward Diocese. The press release says, ‘The desire of those who identify with the society is to have an effective structure which enables them to remain in the Church of England and work as closely as possible with its institutions. Churches or individuals may join or affiliate themselves with the AMIE for a variety of reasons. Some may be churches in impaired communion with their diocesan bishop who require oversight. Others may be in good relations with their bishop but wish to identify with and support others’.
At CCB we’ve been in temporarily impaired communion with the previous Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Tom Butler for nearly six years. We now have a new Bishop, The Right Reverend Christopher Chessun, formerly Bishop of Woolwich. It’s taken a while to meet him, which is a shame. But he’s a busy man and dealing with the ‘renegades’ wouldn’t be top of my list either! Sadly Bishop Christopher’s appointment has not signified a new direction in the theological convictions and trajectory of Southwark’s Episcopal oversight. In other words, on the presenting issue of homosexual activity, the Bishop has not been able to reassure us that he believes and will teach that the only God approved context for sexual activity is within heterosexual marriage. To ask a Bishop such a thing might, to some, appear impertinent. Not to me. Not in the current context. And anyway, if I asked a Head Teacher of my kids’ school whether they believed and taught that two plus two was four, I imagine they’d tolerate my impertinence and answer ‘of course I do you muppet, that’s essential mathematics and we do all we can to teach the basics here at St Snodgrass Establishment for Delinquents’. Or words to that effect. I have some sympathy for the Bishop. He’s in a politically impossible position. He’s got to alienate someone; either it’s the liberal revisionists pushing for their agenda or it’s conservative evangelicals who want to maintain biblical fidelity. He’s got to alienate someone. He’s chosen us. But he’s not a politician. He’s a Bishop and he has a responsibility to uphold biblical truth as it is summarised in the 39 Articles. At his consecration, when the Archbishop asked him this question, ‘Are you ready to banish and drive away all wrong and strange doctrine that is contrary to God’s Word and will you both in public and private urge and encourage others to do the same?’ I imagine Bishop Chrisopher responded ‘I will, with the Lord’s help’. I imagine he both said and meant those words. But it’s apparent that he won’t. So what are we to do?
What this means for those Anglicans congregations within Co-Mission south of the river, is that the situation of temporarily impaired communion remains unchanged. We do not and must not recognise his spiritual authority over us. The Bishop is supposed to drive away erroneous doctrines and call sin for what it is; sin. He’s not supposed to sanctify it and call it what it’s not; holiness. Co-Mission, and presumably others like us, are left in the situation of appealing to the GAFCON Primates for the provision of alternative Episcopal oversight (AEO). This is something that we can now have through AMiE.
Who’s behind it?
Many of the key players behind this move are people who we’d expect and people who we’re familiar with. They’re our friends and de facto leaders of our constituency. Richard Coekin, Rico Tice, Vaughan Roberts and William Taylor have already been visible at a recent AMiE event (more of which in a moment). The formation of the AMIE has been encouraged and supported by the Primates’ Council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON). There’s a steering committee chaired by Rev Paul Perkin, the Vicar of St Mark’s Battersea Rise, and a panel of bishops. Amongst the Bishops are Michael Nazir-Ali, the retired Bishop of Rochester, John Ellison, the retired Bishop of Paraguay and Wallace Benn, the current Bishop of Lewes (a suffragan Bishop in Chichester). These bishops aim to provide effective oversight in collaboration with senior clergy.
Why does it matter?
The Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), which I attended, took place in 2008. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (essentially GAFCON UK) was launched later that same year. Though a lot has been taking place behind the scenes, there’s been little visible development of this reforming movement. Until now. The launch of AMIE comes after four and a half years of discussions with senior Anglican leaders in England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, about ways in which those who are genuinely in need of effective orthodox oversight in the Church of England can receive it. Perhaps this is a way forward?
What’s our involvement?
A little over two weeks ago, three Co-Mission staff were ordained in Kenya for ‘ministry in the wider Anglican Communion’. The ordination took place with the support of the GAFCON Primates’ Council. This was done without letting anyone know so that the three men concerned could concentrate on the significant matter of making their vows before God without the unnecessary distraction of coping with unwelcome media attention. It may have been that no-one would have bothered them. But we weren’t prepared to take that risk. As it was the eight-hour journey in 30 degree heat on dodgy roads from Nairobi to the venue for their ordination in the back of a family saloon that had no air conditioning may not have been the best preparation either!
On Wednesday 22nd June, AMIE held its inaugural event during an evangelical ministers’ conference in central London (the EMA). The three Co-Mission staff were welcomed and prayed for by Bishops and church leaders. Their families were present and were able to see the warmth and high regard in which they were held by their peers and the leaders of the constituency. It was a moving time. And, I pray, the start of something significant as a movement for reform within the Church of England.