By David W. Virtue
May 19, 2012
No definitive statistics exist on conservative evangelicals in the Church of England because official church forms do not exist about such things; however, Church statistician Peter Brierley says that 40% of Church of England attendees currently go to evangelical churches - up from 26% in 1989.
He also notes that of the estimated 175 churches with a Sunday attendance of over 350, 83% are evangelical. Writing in the May issue of New Directions, Andrew Presland, a member of the Church of England's General Synod, writes that in the Southern Province of the CofE, there are more conservative evangelicals in pews than traditional catholics.
Conservative evangelical churches are a high proportion of the very large churches and have impressive numbers of committed Christian teenagers, students and young adults. According to the Ven. Norman Russell, Archdeacon of Berkshire, these churches also typically attract an unusually high proportion of men. The results were drawn from 300 churches in the Church of England who were contacted by researchers. Of the 142 that provided information, 38% of congregations were aged under 30; over 425 women were part of the staff team or working for a para-church organization and attending the church.
Some 345 ordinands were sponsored in the last 10 years (an average of three per church). Most churches reported significant growth in those 10 years, with at least 55 new church plants. The average weekly attendance reported was 209 compared with a national average of 53, and an average of 200 electoral roll members compared with a national average of 75, reports Susie Leafe of General Synod. Conservative evangelicals are also active in Anglican relief and development in the Anglican Communion. Anglican International Development and St. Helen's Bishopsgate (an evangelical parish in London's financial district) recently held a week of Bible teaching for 50 pastors in Juba cathedral in South Sudan.
Conservative evangelical churches also lead the way in providing young ordinands, a priority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican organization Reform calculates that some 70% of all male ordinands aged under 30 come from conservative evangelical churches. Many conservative evangelicals have less than positive views of the Church of England's ordination selection process. They note for example the unevenness of the playing field whereby conservative evangelicals are thought to require "broadening out" and are placed in churches of another tradition with no similar requirement applying to liberal catholic candidates.
The Rev. Jim Charles, Vicar, St. Peter's, Bexleyheath, who was trained for ministry at Oak Hill in London, was told by his bishop that he did not like Oak Hill because "it did not serve the whole church" an allegation that could be made against any theological college - they all have their constituency. (Ironically this is the same argument revisionist bishops in the US Episcopal Church have said about Ambridge-based Trinity School for Ministry ordinands and some Nashotah House graduates. Some bishops have said that evangelicals are not welcome in their dioceses to minister in their parishes even they are the only group who have the ability and theology to make churches grow.)
While such barriers have not deterred large numbers of conservative evangelicals from being ordained in the Church of England in recent years, the current flow of ordinands might flow to a trickle if the women bishops legislation goes through unamended. Ordinands might think twice before deciding that God has a future for them within the ordained ministry of the Church of England. There is some evidence that the ecclesiastical equivalent of "planning blight" already exists.
Andrew Smith, Cornhill Training Course and Church of England Youth Council, said the proposed move to elevate women to the episcopate and the lack of through provision associated with this alarms him greatly, as well as many of his contemporaries. "As a young man who is embarking upon the selection process for ordination in the Church of England I am left feeling rather distressed and torn. I am Anglican and thoroughly evangelical I am caught in a difficult position as I think about pursuing ordination. I love the Anglican Church, the historic formularies of the Articles and the Creeds, and there is no place that I would rather be. I love the Scriptures and I seek to obey them in all matters of life and conduct. I cannot, in conscience see this motion carried through without proper provision provided. What then am I to do?"
The Rev. Russell Moul, St. Paul's Harold Hill, Essex, said their female youth worker was very able but understood that she would not get into the CofE as a deacon because she would not be willing to be ordained a priest. She took a job in Manchester as a youth worker and eventually had to earn some real money so returned to nursing. She is lost to paid ministry. While this does not point to an immediate exodus from the Church of England, if the unamended draft measure receives the necessary support from General Synod the prognosis is not good, say a couple of prominent conservative evangelical clergy.
"Unless the proposed legislation is changed, it is likely to mean the gradual removal of conservative evangelicals witness through the Church of Evangelical over a generation," said the Rev. Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St. Ebbe's, Oxford. "The way this legislation is framed is going to make a huge difference to our ability to promote the gospel through the Church of England: changes are vital," said the Rev. Rod Thomas, Chairman of Reform, vicar of Elburton, Plymouth: General Synod. A range of other conservative evangelicals, including women, holds similar views.
"I was ordained deacon in 1994 and have remained part of the distinctive diaconate since then, being persuaded theologically that it is not appropriate for women to lead churches. If the provision for those who in all conscience cannot accept women bishops does not protect them adequately then they have no alternative but to seek alternative Episcopal oversight from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion," commented the Rev. Carrie Sandom, Associate Minister for Women and pastoral Ministry, St. John's, Tunbridge Wells.
"There is a range of women's ministry carried out in conservative evangelical churches in the Church of England and one of my concerns is that if those churches are not supported by women bishops, neither will that range of women's ministry. Since 1992, formally recognized women's ministry within the Church of England has been focused on being ordained presbyter/priest, with the result that there is little opportunity for those seeking to fulfill other ministry roles to do so with encouragement and training from the Church of England, said Annabel Heywood, staff of St. Ebbe's, Oxford.
"Having been on general Synod for 16 years, I am dismayed by the lack of proper provision for those, including evangelical women Readers like me, who do not agree with women bishops. I am also concerned that those who do not want the change have not listened carefully to their brothers and sisters in Christ whose needs will not be met by the presently proposed Measure. If legal provision was necessary and generally worked well, from 1992, then it is certainly needed now. I would urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to take a lead and bring forward amended proposals for us to vote on in July," said Ruth Whitworth, General Synod." Other conservative evangelicals have particular practical concerns that do not appear to be widely recognized.
"The issue of conservative evangelical churches is the issue of the succession of ministers trained for them. We will not leave; we will find alternative ways of staying Anglican. Can the CofE afford to lose us? Even many of the "liberal" leadership are people converted through evangelical Anglican ministry, noted the Rev. Canon Dr. Chris Sugden, Oxford Center for Mission Studies, Anglican Mainstream; General Synod. "The Bishop of Lewes retired in August and at the moment this means there will be no serving bishops in the Church of England who are evangelical and who do not ordain women.
The House of Bishops seeks to reassure us - in the preface to the illustrative Code - that they will seek to maintain a supply of bishops to minister among parishes of our integrity - but given that there will shortly be none currently in post, it's difficult to feel any great sense of confidence about this," said Reform chairman Rod Thomas.
Concluded the Ven. Norman Russell, [I hope] "there is a way to enable traditional catholics and evangelical Anglicans to remain in the Church of England with a good conscience. Where there's a will there's a way. I hope and pray that it will be found."
However, an orthodox Anglican voice in England told VOL that while evangelicals are growing they have not reached their zenith.
"Evangelicals are a growing proportion of church attenders in the Church of England, and many of the largest churches are Evangelical - but not all of these are Conservative Evangelical, by any means. Many of them support women's ordination, and a growing number, influenced by the liberal "evangelical" Fulcrum crowd are "open" on the subject of homosexuality.
"For many practical purposes where orthodoxy is concerned, they are therefore indistinguishable from their liberal neighbors. "They offer a different style of worship, and a greater emphasis on the bible - but they are not committed to the full authority of Holy Scripture in the way which is true of Conservative Evangelicals, who tend to belong to Church Society or to Reform."