THE diocese of Rochester appeared unperturbed this week by reports of a “shadow synod” planned in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
Representatives of 11 congregations in three dioceses (Rochester, Canterbury, and Chichester) were due to meet on Thursday at St Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, published on Monday, the Vicar, the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon, said: “If senior leaders of the Church of England water down the teaching of the Church of England on key issues like homosexuality, then this synod could easily evolve into a new Anglican jurisdiction in England.
”I am not leaving the Church of England, but in order to stay, I need new partnerships and structures to discharge the mission of the Church of England, which is to bring the message of Christ to every postcode in England. We have set these structures up in a very small embryonic form across three dioceses.”
A Rochester diocesan spokesperson said on Tuesday: “Open and honest debate and discussion is part of the life and tradition of the Church of England, and there are many formal and informal networks and groups within which this takes place.
"These discussions often reflect the wide range of theological and spiritual perspectives within the Church of England. In relation to discussion around human sexuality, there is a continuing national process involving the General Synod as well as the College and House of Bishops.”
The news was welcomed by the GAFCON UK Task Force, which replaced the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) UK & Ireland Executive earlier in the summer.
A spokesman said that the Task Force was “in the process of getting set up” and that a website would shortly be launched. FCA was launched as a “regional expression of GAFCON” in 2009 (News, 10 July, 2009). Two years later, the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) was launched as a registered mission society, with a panel of bishops available to offer alternative episcopal oversight (1 July, 2011).
A statement issued by the chair of the GAFCON UK Task Force, Canon Andy Lines, who is also the general secretary of AMiE, described the “shadow synod” as “a grass-roots initiative by local congregations which is representative of the views of many across the country, and is in line with the concerns of Anglicans from the GAFCON movement worldwide”.
He spoke of Church of England churches that “oppose the relentless slide towards revisionism in the Church of England structures”, which were “prepared to take action to protect their congregations”.
The Telegraph understands that, so far, 11 PCCs have scheduled debates on a motion upholding the “Jerusalem Statement” — a doctrinal confession produced at the founding of GAFCON — and have taken part in a new “Anglican synod of churches” committed to upholding it. Of those, five have passed the motion, and six others are due to.
An earlier meeting of this grouping was addressed by the Vicar of St Martin de Gouray, Jersey, Canon Gavin Ashenden, who said that the Church of England was facing “a structural flaw of fatal proportions” and decried efforts to “keep together two kinds of Anglicanism that cannot and should not be kept together”.
The Revd James Paice, trustee of the Good Stewards Trust (News, 17 July, 2015), said on Tuesday that he was “heartened” by events in Tunbridge Wells. Clergy were “taking principled actions in favour of the historic faith and against false teaching that will destroy the Church”.
Reports of the meeting appeared the day after the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed Greenbelt, where he said that he was “constantly consumed with horror” at the way in which gay people had been treated by the Church, but that there must remain a place for those who believed that same-sex relationships were “deeply, deeply wrong”. The Church, once regarded as “vicious”, was now perceived as “odd”, he said.
In a letter issued on Tuesday, the chairman of GAFCON, the Nigerian Primate, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, said that the “greatest cause for concern” for the organisation continued to be the British Isles. “The challenge we face now is that the Church of England’s problems are being exported to the rest of the Communion,” he wrote.
”If successive Archbishops of Canterbury had used their powers to teach and to gather in order to rebuke and inhibit those who audaciously contradict the Communion’s apostolic inheritance, the contagion of false teaching could have been contained. Instead, as the April meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council demonstrated, endless dialogue, promoted as ‘walking together’, has made matters worse. To maintain institutional unity, issues of doctrinal integrity are not faced. Instead, respectability has been given to a false gospel while reducing orthodox belief to an option and casting doubt on the trustworthiness of the Bible.”
He called on GAFCON in the UK and AMiE to “demonstrate that they have the necessary courage and faith in a context which to a large extent they alone can grapple with”.
In response, Canon Lines said that AMiE was "about to launch an ambitious plan for pioneering church-planting . . . where the aim is to encourage regions throughout England that pioneer, establish and secure healthy local Anglican churches." He referenced the ReNew Conference to be held this month. The 2014 ReNew, organised by the Church Society, Reform, and AMiE, called on supporters to investigate "the opportunities to revitalise an existing Church of England church and/or plant with or without diocesan approval" (News, 3 October, 2014). A plant opened in Salisbury in 2014 (News, 20 February, 2015).