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Church Army to consult on changes to membership

14 June 2024

Conversations needed to decide how best to meet new safeguarding standards

Alamy

AFTER unhappiness about changes to the membership of the Church Army Mission Community, which will exclude many current members, leaders of the Church Army will be holding conversations to consider how best to meet the “highest possible standards of safeguarding”, the interim CEO has said.

An earlier letter, setting out the proposed changes, had acknowledged that they might be “distressing for some people, and perhaps deeply so”. They had initially included an instruction that evangelists without an active commission could not wear the Church Army uniform, and that those who were not members of the Mission Community could not use the title “Sister” or “Captain”.

The Church Army became an Acknowledged Religious Community in the Church of England in 2012, after a motion to change its 130-year constitution was approved by more than 90 per cent of members (News, 25 November 2011). The then chief executive, Mark Russell, spoke of a desire to be “an inclusive movement of evangelists, lay people, ordained, full-time, part-time, young, old — all of whom are committed to changing our nation.”

Individuals had to make a public commitment on becoming a member of the Church Army Mission Community (CAMC), and a rule of life was established. Different pathways into the community were available: Commissioned, Covenanted, Companion, and Co-worker.

Those Church Army evangelists commissioned before the inception of the CAMC could choose whether or not to join. Even if they chose not to, they could choose to remain members of the Society of Church Army, retaining all the benefits and rights associated with that membership. All evangelists commissioned after the inception of the CAMC joined as part of their commissioning, if they were not already members.

In 2019, the General Synod carried Amending Canon No.40, drafted in response to a request for a framework for religious life in the Church of England (News, 12 July 2019). This followed the report of the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse on Peter Ball, which drew attention to the the ambiguity surrounding the relationships between Religious Communities, including their office-holding and ordained members, and the wider structures of the Church, and called for the introduction of safeguarding guidance for religious communities.

The new Canon provided for the House of Bishops to declare communities to be religious communities in the Church of England. Communities must now meet criteria set out in regulations made by the House of Bishops, who took responsibility for safeguarding guidance. In the subsequent years, Church Army worked with the National Safeguarding Team to understand the implications for the organisation as an acknowledged religious community that also deploys evangelists to publicly authorised ministry.

In a letter sent to all members of the CAMC, and all Church Army evangelists, in February, the then CEO, the Ven. Peter Rouch, and the director of community and vocations (now interim CEO), the Revd Jude Davis, said that, in the light of changes made by the General Synod to the canon governing Religious Communities, the Church Army “must make some changes to keep our registered status as a Religious Community”.

Membership of the CAMC would have to be limited to certain categories of people, who would need to either apply for or renew their membership, and meet a number of requirements. These are: commissioned evangelists who hold a bishop’s licence and/or permission to officiate, or who are active in ministry or working in a non-Anglican ministry and can meeting safeguarding checks; Church Army evangelists in training; or Church Army employees whose role includes an occupational requirement to have an active faith in Jesus Christ. Commissioned evangelists must be members of the Mission Community.

Many current members of the CAMC were not in the sort of ministry that would allow them to belong to the CAMC in its new form, but could become a Church Army Mission Partner.

There were some Church Army evangelists, originally admitted to lay ministry by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who “cannot or might not wish to do what is needed to belong to the CAMC in its new form”, the letter said. “These people will no longer be able to hold an active commission.” The National Safeguarding Team (NST) was initially “unwilling for their association with the Church Army to be acknowledged publicly”, the letter said. But, in response to “protest” from Church Army, the NST had agreed that those who had a Commission from the Church Army, but were no longer in a position to exercise active licensed ministry, could style themselves “CA Emeritus”.

The letter concluded: “We know that this change may be distressing for some people, and perhaps deeply so. We regret hurting our brothers and sisters who have sacrificed themselves in following Christ in the Church Army. Yet we hope you will be able to understand the crucial safeguarding needs that make such changes necessary.”

The letter asked people to respond by the end of May, but a spokesman said last week that the Church Army has since retracted this deadline and arranged a series of meetings to listen to people’s views and consider the best way forward. A follow-up communication has advised that retired Church Army evangelists without a licence or PTO can continue to wear their uniform and use their titles when attending Church Army events, and in contexts where they are not indicating to others an active commission.

Shortly after the letter, at the end of February, Mr Rouch announced that he would be leaving the Church Army to take up his new position as secretary-general of the Mission to Seafarers (News, 8 March).

Last week, the interim CEO, Ms Davis, said that the Church Army was “committed to the highest possible standards of safeguarding in how it undertakes its work and forms its common life.

“Over the summer, I and other senior leaders in my team will be hosting conversations with Church Army evangelists and other members of the Church Army Mission Community to think together about how best we might do this. We welcome all Church Army evangelists and other members of our Mission Community to attend one of these events, and we will carefully listen to and respond to the questions and concerns raised.”

There were “many ways to be a part of Church Army”, she said, including becoming Mission Partners.

Among those who have raised concerns about the changes is Philip Johanson, who was chief secretary of the Church Army in the UK and Ireland from 1990 to 2006, before becoming the first international secretary for Church Army International.

“The Church Army Mission Community was established to include people who work with, financially support, and pray for Church Army evangelists as volunteers,” he said last week. “It has enabled them to feel fully included and involved. The new direction of travel will exclude such people.”

One way forward would be to move away from being an Acknowledged Religious Community of the Church of England subject to its rules, he said, and to “set up a process of ensuring appropriate safeguarding to be covered by employing Safeguarding Officers in the way that the Church Mission Society has done”.

Paul Boyd-Lee, a Church Army board member from 1999 to 2014, said: “I find it a tragedy to the Church generally that the Church Army, which in effect has for years worked as a united family with a common purpose of upholding the love of God to a broken world, is now to be fragmented for reasons that appear to be quite
unnecessary. . . A significant number of the now marginalised Community members seem to independently meet the criteria that the Chairman is citing to exclude them, such as being licensed to officiate, having satisfied DBS checks and having safeguarding certificates.”

While dialogue had been offered, the Church Army “does not currently seem to be negotiating the issue in an encouraging way,” he said last week.

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