A PROPOSAL that members of the Church Society must be active members of the Church of England was narrowly rejected at an annual general meeting last week.
The proposal, which echoed the Church of England Representation Rules, stated that members of the conservative Evangelical group must have habitually attended a Church of England church over the past six months. It failed to secure a 75-per-cent majority.
The chairman of the Church Society, the Revd Paul Darlington, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Oswestry, said this week that the society was “absolutely committed, by its constitution and ethos, to the spiritual health specifically of the Church of England. Because the society can’t exist outside the Church of England, the Council considers its full members ought to be active in the Church of England.”
The proposal put at the AGM was designed to clarify the “blurred” distinction between members and associate members, “those who support our work but are not themselves members of the Church of England”.
The society’s director, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, said: “Though we rejoice in our ecumenical partnerships with other Christian groups, it would be inappropriate for those who habitually attend Baptist and secessionist churches to be eligible to run a society which has always existed to represent Evangelicals in the Church of England.
“The amendments to our constitution helpfully modernised and clarified it — though, partly thanks to the sudden and temporary appearance halfway through the conference of several people who attend Nonconformist churches on Sundays, some of the approved amendments did not receive a super-majority of 75 per cent of votes cast on the day.”
Alan Bartley, a member of the society present at the meeting, reported that some had argued that the Church Representation Rules “accepted as Anglicans baptised people living in parishes, even if they do not habitually attend their parish church”. Furthermore, “due to age or ill-health alone, not everyone can habitually attend a Church of England congregation. . . In some parts of the country, the local parishes were unacceptable to those from whom Church Society was obliged to draw its membership.”
It was also argued, he said, that the change would exclude those who were members of other Anglican Churches within the UK, and those who, while not meeting the new criteria, had been long-standing supporters.
The AGM elected a new president — the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, a former Bishop of Lewes — and two new council members, including Dr Julie Woolford. Women now make up almost a quarter of the council.