This coming Sunday, 11th July 2021, will be my last serving the people of Kemsing and Woodlands as their "vicar" (the familiar title people used locally), or "Priest in Charge" (the more exact legal title, due to a 4 decade long plan to relocate the vicarage).
When I was ordained into the Church of England, I did so with utmost seriousness and integrity, hoping to serve there for life, whilst not being naive that the denomination was changing even then. When I was licensed to my current role, I hoped to do at least 2 decades, if not serving there until retirement.
It's been just under 12 and a half years. I was licensed on 23rd February 2009. It's been a deep privilege, an utter joy, and hard work the like of which I'd never foreseen.
But now it's about to come to an end. This is a matter of deep grief and sorrow. It's also a breath of fresh air to be on the way out of the door. One older, wiser Christian said to me that when he saw me last week for the first time in over a year, it looked like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It does feel like that, yes, but that sense of relief makes it no less sad to be leaving.
Back in January, after announcing that I would be leaving at some point in the summer, I did a presentation for our church family to explain both why I'm leaving and where we're going.
The content of that presentation may well be helpful for people wider than just our immediate church family. The best way to catch up is to watch the actual presentation, so a YouTube link is below. Some people prefer to read, or like to be able to pull out phrases to quote or to think on further. So below the YouTube link is a transcript.
This all raises a few questions that people have asked me. I'll endeavour to write some posts picking up on those in the next couple of weeks.
Thank you for coming this evening.
Let me start by reading Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5 and 6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
This kind of conversation would be so much better face to face, rather than over Zoom, but that’s what we have to do. There will still be lots of chance to ask questions and to discuss. This talk will be available on the internet for people who weren’t able to join us tonight. The discussion time will not be shared, so you can ask freely.
I want to cover two topics. Why are we leaving. Where are we going (and why).
I’d much rather talk about the second of those. We’re excited about where we’re going. That’s positive, upbeat, good to talk about.
But the issues around why we’re leaving need explaining carefully. So I’m afraid we’re going to have to spend more time on that.
Please don’t conclude from that that the negatives are more important. I’m driven by the glorious, life-saving good news of Jesus Christ. I’m defined by him, and my relationship with him. Nothing delights me more than being able to share him with as many other people as possible.
But sometimes, to live for something positive, the negative is needed to protect it.
That’s where I find myself today. I feel a little bit like Jude, the brother of Jesus, who opened his letter at the back of the New Testament with these words: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” Jude, verses 3 and 4.
Leaving is Nothing to do with Kemsing
Before I explain why we are leaving, let me first say what the reason is not.
We’re not leaving because of anything to do with Kemsing or Woodlands.
I love ministering here. I love you deeply. It hurts massively to have to move away from you, to leave behind deep friendships, to leave our church family, to leave a community in which we are so deeply embedded.
I have been increasingly enjoying long-term involvement in the community. The more you know people, the more you can help them, get alongside them. I have been looking forward to things like taking the first wedding of someone I baptised as a baby, that kind of thing.
It has been a huge privilege to share Jesus with you. I have watched some of you come to faith, become Christians for the very first time. I’ve watched many of you grow — in your faith, in depth, in maturity, in living it out. I would have loved to continue to invest in you all, to care for you, to walk several more decades with you.
But sadly it’s not to be. The problems do not come from within, but from without. Nothing anything any of you have done has pushed us away.
Instead, it’s time to leave because of the situation in the wider Church of England. I need to leave it. And, because this church is part of the Church of England, we also need to leave Kemsing and Woodlands churches behind.
The Church of England: Diverse, but Orthodox
So why leave? Why now?
We need to start at the beginning. Why did I commit to the Church of England when I was ordained 16 years ago? What kind of denomination was it?
Ever since it started, the Church of England has been a church that is both diverse and orthodox.
It’s diverse. I was under no illusion about that. There are many views contained within the Church of England. It has always been so. It’s early history was Queen Elizabeth I’s Act of Uniformity, that aimed to keep a spectrum of views together under one roof. In recent decades we’ve had clergy who practically deny the existence of God, the odd Bishop who denied Jesus rose from the dead.
But they were the odd ones. The Church of England may be diverse, but it’s also orthodox.
The laws that govern the Church of England are called “The Canons”. Here’s Canon A5: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”
“Grounded in the Holy Scriptures”: The final authority for what we believe in the Church of England is Scripture, the Bible. That biblical teaching is expressed in the 39 Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book, which are excellent texts.
The Church of England is orthodox.
But because the Church of England is diverse, if you believe what the Bible teaches, it can feel a little awkward. You meet people who don’t believe the same as you, sometimes on really important topics. What do you do?
The answer is this: If there are people within the Church of England who believe and teach things contrary to the Bible, they are the ones who are not being true Anglicans. Insofar as we believe the Bible, we are the true heirs of the Church of England. I do belong here. It’s my home church.
So, there’s a mismatch. Between the official position of the Church, and what some people believe and practice on the ground. But the official position is a good one.
Which is why I belong here. Which is why I was glad to be ordained within the Church of England.
The Crunch Point: New Liturgy
So what’s changed?
As I started out, I was aware the diversity could get stretched to breaking point. How would I know if it’s time to leave? I always said that I would have to leave if the authorised liturgy changed away from the Bible.
Let me explain.
The liturgy is the prayers we pray on various occasions. The creed. Confessing our sin. The words of the marriage service. The prayers when we share Holy Communion.
If you want to know what an Anglican church believes, you listen to the words we pray. We say the same thing every time. The same words as every other church within the Church of England.
So if a new liturgy, new words for us all to pray, are authorised, then that represents a change in what we believe. And if the new words embody ideas that are not true, then what we believe is no longer good.
Now, you might wonder why the liturgy is so important. As long as Canon A5 is as it is, we’d still be a Church that has the Bible as our final authority. At least on paper. So if Canon A5 remained, why would it be so disastrous if the liturgy changed?
If that happened, we’d have a different kind of mismatch. I’ve already talked about having a mismatch between what we should believe and practice, and what actually happens. But here, we’d have a mismatch as we try to work out what we should be doing. On the one hand, Canon A5 says that we follow the Bible. On the other hand, we have liturgies that don’t do that.
So why is a change in liturgy so important?
The answer to this question comes from the 4th century.
A senior church leader called Arius was teaching that Jesus is not fully God. So a council was called in the year 325, the Council of Nicaea. The debates were heard in full. Both sides of the debate claimed to be biblical. Arius quoted biblical texts to support his view. Athanasius , Nicholas (the original Father Christmas), and others also quoted the Bible.
The Council had to work out who was really being biblical.
The outcome: What we have as the Nicene Creed was adopted. Jesus is “begotten, not made”, “very God of very God”, “eternally begotten of the Father”. Jesus really is fully God.
Arius was banished. He had a creed too, which said of Jesus that, “There was when he was not”. His creed was rejected.
At this point, you had two different parties. Both had their Canon A5, as it were. Both would say, “Our doctrine ‘is grounded in the Holy Scriptures’”. Both had their creeds, their liturgies, words for people to express their faith.
The biblical party was the one whose liturgy was in line with the Bible. It was not enough, simply to assert that you’re biblical. You need to be biblical, especially so in the words you pray and proclaim during public worship.
Let me just summarise what I’ve said so far.
The Church of England has always been diverse, but it has also been orthodox. I enjoy ministering within it, as one of those who truly belongs.
But the crunch point would come if new liturgies were to be authorised that were not biblical. That would be the crunch point, even if Canon A5 continued to say that we’re based on the Bible.
Same Sex Marriage
There are two areas where that crunch point is being hit, and has been hit.
The first is the one I’d expected to be the problem. Same sex marriage.
This has been rumbling within the Church of England for some time. I won’t go too far back tonight. If you want to follow the trail, you can search the internet for documents called “Issues in Human Sexuality”, one from 1991 and one from 2003. Then for the House of Bishops’ 2005 statement on civil partnerships. Then the 2013 Pilling Report.
This issue has been slow cooking for some time. My prediction is that before same sex marriages are allowed in Church of England parish churches, we’ll get services of blessing authorised for marriages contracted at a civil venue. Individual clergy would be able to opt out, to begin with. We’ll see if I’m right.
I thought this would be my crunch, the moment when I’d have to leave.
In this area, we’re not yet there, but we’re travelling a dangerous road.
In November 2013, the House of Bishops commissioned a series of structured conversations across the country through 2015 and 2016. The aim was to help people understand and accept the range of views and practice out there when it comes to same-sex relationships.
After those conversations, the Bishops published a report entitled “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations”, codename “GS2055”.
It set out a roadmap of where to go next, and General Synod debated it in February 2017. They were then asked to vote “take note” of the report. It just says they’ve read it. But amazingly, they voted against taking note.
The two archbishops wrote a public letter in response.
“To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.” “It must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual. We need to work together, … the whole Church, not excluding anyone - to move forward with confidence.”
“Radical new Christian inclusion”.
How do we get there? How do we become more “inclusive”? Two things.
First, this: “As Archbishops we will be establishing a Pastoral Oversight group led by the Bishop of Newcastle, with the task of supporting and advising Dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to our current pastoral approach to human sexuality. The group will be inclusive, and will seek to discern the development of pastoral practices, within current arrangements.” So, within the current arrangements, the current official position, let’s work out what can be allowed on the ground? How could pastoral practice move forwards, even now? Since then, all kinds of innovative things have happened in most English dioceses.
And then second: “We, with others, will be formulating proposals … for a large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality.”
They commissioned a document to teach what we are to believe on human sexuality.
In time, that document came to be known as “Living in Love and Faith”. It then morphed from a teaching document into a mapping exercise. It would no longer teach, it will simply map out the belief and practice that is out there. Here’s an excerpt from the video that introduces the project.
This was published in November last year. The whole church across the nation will have a year to discuss it, after which the Bishops will propose some changes to General Synod.
What will those changes be?
Well, the whole tone of Living in Love and Faith is about helping us to accept that the multiple views out there are a genuine expression of love and faith. They are different ways to live out the Christian faith, different ways to show true Christian love.
Given that the project has become accepting different practices as legitimate. And given the innovative practices on the ground. It seems to me highly unlikely that the Bishops will report back to General Synod that how we’ve traditionally understood marriage is right. It’s what the Bible teaches, what Jesus teaches, and therefore all innovative practices should cease.
It seems inevitable that they’ll take us instead to a place where are all asked to recognise differing views. We’re moving to a place where the Bible’s clear teaching on human sexuality is treated as a secondary issue. Which means my crisis point, new liturgy that goes against the Bible, is likely in a year or two’s time.
If this did happen, why would it be so serious that I’d have to leave? Why would introducing liturgies that celebrate same-sex marriage be a primary issue?
The answer is the gospel. When Jesus went into Galilee, he proclaimed “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Ever since then, that is Jesus’ call. He calls us to repent, to turn from what God says to be wrong. And to come to him – for forgiveness, and for transformation of life.
We all have particular sins that tempt us. We all need to repent of our particular sins.
We wouldn’t want to say that certain people have no need to repent. Or that certain sins do not need repenting of. Whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, Jesus calls us to come to him, to discover that letting him take control is the path to life.
So no sin ever becomes secondary. But same-sex marriage matters in particular, for 2 reasons. Unlike so many sins, it’s not a sliding scale, requiring the weighing of motives. It’s a black and white lifestyle choice. And second, 1 Corinthians 6 lists a number of sins that, unrepented, shut you out of God’s kingdom. In that list is “sexual immorality” in general, and same-sex activity in particular.
So this is a primary issue because if we get this wrong, we are excluding people from the kingdom of God. Which is a terrible thing to do.
That’s the first area where my crunch point, my red line, is in the process of being hit. Although we’re not quite there yet.
But there’s another area where it has been hit, which is why it’s time to leave now.
The year is 2018.
The House of Bishops have been asked for a liturgy to celebrate someone’s transition to a new gender.
This is a tricky issue. Because of the fall, a tiny proportion of babies are born with a genuine biological intersex condition. This isn’t about them. This is about people who decide to choose a gender other than the sex they’re born with. When they’ve undergone surgery, and chosen a new name, how can we celebrate that?
In March 2018, the Bishops decided that they wouldn’t commission a new liturgy for this. Instead, clergy could adapt an existing liturgy, called the “Affirmation of Baptismal Faith”. We only baptise a person once, but sometimes people want to renew their baptismal vows. The Bishops said this service could be adapted to celebrate a new gender.
Just before Christmas, in December 2018, they published pastoral guidance to tell us how to do this. Fresh rubrics would be written into Common Worship, the Church’s prayer book, to say that this is an appropriate use for that service, and directing how it is to be done.
There were multiple problems with this.
It ignored the teaching of Jesus that God makes each of us male or female. Our gender is part of who God makes us, not something we get to choose.
It ignored the huge pastoral issues. For example, someone’s gender transition may be a cause of celebration for them, but their former husband or wife might be a member of the same church and be weeping at the person they’ve lost.
It ignored the complex ethics with when someone is referred for such surgery.
And it used the Bible really poorly. A list of suggested Bible readings included verses when God gives someone a new name. In context, those verses had nothing at all to do with gender.
It was a clever sleight of hand by the bishops. If someone says they’ve authorised a new liturgy, they can deny everything. A totally new liturgy would have needed a debate and 2/3 majority at General Synod.
And yet they have. We never before had a liturgy to mark someone’s gender transition. Now we do. The fact the form of words was already in use for something completely different is neither here nor there. In fact, the irony is painful. Words used to celebrate someone’s new identity in Christ are now to be used to celebrate someone’s autonomy to take God’s place in deciding their own gender.
Lots of people protested, and told the Bishops of the problems I mentioned earlier. They moved the guidance to a footnote. But they did not withdraw it. It’s still there.
This is not where I’d expected the crunch to come. As I say, I expected same sex marriage to be my crisis point. But come it had. A new liturgy had been authorised, for which we didn’t have one before. And the doctrine contained in that liturgy is directly against the teachings of the Bible.
Over the following few months, I prayed, I thought, I discussed this with friends. And it became clearer and clearer: The red line I had previously set had indeed been crossed.
From that point on, I could see that to remain in the Church of England would be unfaithful to Christ. I felt increasingly starved of spiritual oxygen within it.
I should add that friends of mine set their red lines, way back, in different places. They will reach a different judgement than me. Good friends will stay in for many years. I respect that, and trust their motives, as I hope they will respect and trust mine.
The point is that this is not simply my preference. My view. My conscience. The official position of the Church of England is now to follow a different Jesus from the one in the Bible. A different Jesus from the real Jesus of history. A Jesus who is a human construction. A Jesus who simply reflects back the values and desires of prevailing culture.
The time had come prayerfully to seek the right move.
The question is: Where do we move?
The first thing to say is that it took time. Our God is totally sovereign, utterly in control, and he proved very adept at closing doors. You wouldn’t believe how many ideas we had that turned out not to be his ideas.
Finally, after 2 years, a door has opened. I’ll get to minister in a church that’s part of two very exciting networks.
There are lots of names and abbreviations in what I’m going to say next. I’ll give you all the weblinks as we go, and then when this presentation ends up on YouTube they’ll all be in the video description.
The first is Gafcon.
GAFCON stands for Global Anglican Futures Conference.
That’s because it started life as a conference that met in Jerusalem in 2008. Since then, they’ve had two more global conferences, in Nairobi in 2013, and in Jerusalem again in 2018. That most recent one had over 2000 delegates from all over the world.
But it’s so much more than a conference. It’s a family.
It’s a family of Anglicans all over the world, who believe that what makes you an Anglican is not just being in relationship with other churches that call themselves Anglican. You’re Anglican if you believe and practice the things that Anglicans have always believed and practiced. At the first 2008 conference, a statement was agreed called the Jerusalem Declaration, something that summarises what it mean to be an Anglican, and that all Gafcon expressions agree to.
There are three ways faithful Anglicans around the world are connected to Gafcon. The largest provinces in the Anglican Communion all belong, as whole provinces. This includes Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, and Myanmar. Then, in some provinces where the leadership is not sympathetic, there are Gafcon branches to which faithful Anglicans can belong for fellowship and support. To name a few, this is true in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Tanzania. Lastly, there are places like North America, Brazil and New Zealand where Gafcon have recognised the need, not just for fellowship and support, but for new ecclesial structures. In effect new provinces have been created.
Gafcon’s aim, in their own words, is to “… guard and proclaim the unchanging, transforming Gospel through biblically faithful preaching and teaching which frees our churches to make disciples by clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ in all the world.”
In some parts of the world, Anglican Christians and churches have found themselves at odds with the established Anglican church in their area. Gafcon has provided them with a true spiritual home. A way of connecting. A way of reassuring those Christians and churches that they are not alone.
In that spirit, something very significant happened in June 2017. The primates of the Gafcon network decided to appoint a missionary bishop for Europe. They would consecrate a new bishop, Andy Lines, who could help care for faithful Anglicans in Europe. Initially, it was a number of Scottish churches that needed his oversight, but the need continues to grow.
I watched Andy’s consecration on livestream. It was a wonderful event. The Archbishop of Nigeria preached. At least the primates of Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan, South East Asia, ACNA and Myanmar took part in the consecration. As did several retired primates, and many other bishops spanning 5 continents. It was probably the most cosmopolitan, and the largest consecration of a bishop in Anglican history.
By moving to a church that is part of Gafcon, I get to remain an Anglican. I am absolutely thrilled that I will get to call Andy Lines my bishop, a man who has for some months been praying for me.
Second, the church I’m moving to is part of the Anglican Mission in England, A-M-i-E, or AMiE for short.
AMiE started a few years back, initially as a church planting network. It helped fresh church plants to start outside the structures of the Church of England, where a need was identified, but a plant within the structures was not possible.
Since then it’s grown. There are now 16 churches in AMiE. Some were fresh plants. Other existing churches chose to join. As it’s growing, it needs a bigger structure to support it. It’s now what’s called a “convocation”, which means it’s forming into a diocese. It’s part of something called the Anglican Network in Europe, which God-willing may one day become a full province.
What all of this means is that we are not moving to a place where there are two Anglican jurisdictions in England, two ways to be Anglican. There’s the Church of England, and there’s the Anglican Network in Europe, containing AMiE. Actually, there are other ways still to be Anglican, including a denomination that dates back to the 19th century, but that’s for another day.
If the idea of having two Anglican churches in one country seems weird, let me tell you about the USA. In the USA, the Anglican church lots of people have heard of is TEC, The Episcopal Church, led by Michael Curry, the guy who preached at Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding. In 2003, Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. In 2004, their equivalent of General Synod confirmed the choice. Robinson had divorced his wife, and partnered with another man.
In 2007, TEC authorised services to bless same-sex marriages. Gradually, many churches, even whole dioceses left. But in 2009, they came together to form a new structure called ACNA, the Anglican Church in North America.
So for 12 years there have been two Anglican denominations in America. TEC. And ACNA. ACNA is associated with Gafcon. TEC is not. ACNA is still the smaller of the two. But it’s growing. They now have over 1000 churches, in 29 dioceses, at which an average 80,000 people worship each Sunday. In the 4 years to 2017, the number worshipping in the ACNA grew by 10%, while the number worshipping in TEC churches declined by 10%.
Two Anglican churches in one country.
But the structure is not what’s exciting about AMiE. The structures support the growth, like the trellis up which a rose can climb. The focus of AMiE, the reason it exists, is to hold out the good news of Jesus. It is a family of churches, who enjoy fellowship with one another, who can hold out the word of life, and can plant new churches to enable more and more people to discover this Jesus too.
That’s what AMiE stands for, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
So we’re moving to a church that’s part of Gafcon, and part of AMiE, and that church is Trinity Church Scarborough.
It was planted in May 2017 by some Christians from a church in Hull. They began life with 17 adults and 13 children. God has blessed them. Just before the March lockdown, a typical Sunday would see 85 adults and 40 children gather to worship. There are another 60,000 people in Scarborough to reach.
They have an exciting vision. They want to be a healthy church where people can relate as a family, and be fed in their Christian faith. They want to reach out to the many in Scarborough who do not yet know the Lord Jesus. In due course, they would love to plant new churches in towns nearby.
I’ll be part of a team. They have a senior pastor. I’ll serve under his overall leadership, as the associate minister. They also employ a families and children’s worker, and a volunteer women’s worker. There are many teams within the life of the church, and the church is run by the members of those teams.
Please pray for us as we prepare to move. There’s a lot to sort out. We need somewhere to live. Our children need the right schools. We need to organise the move. And we need to make the most of our remaining months here, with all you lovely people. And I will certainly continue to pray for you, and for the life of the church here.
I am thrilled to be moving to a church that unambiguously holds out the Jesus of the Bible. Where that is true not just at the local level, but is something that is part of the fabric of the networks and structures to which it belongs. A church that is authentically Anglican, anchored in the worldwide Anglican family. And yet, crucially and sadly, is not part of the Church of England.