Lee, you’ve been Director of the Church Society for a number of years now. Can you give us a quick overview of what Church Society does, and what role it plays in the Church of England?
Church Society has been around in various forms since the early nineteenth century, as the institutional spine of Anglican evangelicalism.
We exist to strengthen local churches in biblical faith and to help shape the Church of England now and for the future. We do this through publishing, politics, patronage and conferences.
That is, we resource evangelicals through our journal Churchman, our magazine Crossway, books, tracts, website and blog, podcast, videos and social media. We engage positively in church politics (I’ve been to Lambeth Palace to see Justin Welby for example, and to 10 Downing Street as well). We get to be involved in the appointment of vicars in 130 parishes across the country. And we run four conferences throughout the year.
Are there any particular moments of encouragement you’ve seen through the ministry of Church Society that you could share with us?
Every year we run something called the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference (JAEC)—affectionately called ‘Jake’—for men and women considering ministry or in training, all the way through to those in curacies and the early years of incumbency. The conference has become helpful for those who want to be positively evangelical and positively Anglican at the same time. Even some non-evangelical bishops have sent people along to us, to help them understand what being an Anglican evangelical looks like in today’s Church of England. I always find JAEC to be one of the most encouraging weeks of the year, and it has been great to see and feed a growing appetite for Reformed theological teaching amongst younger Anglicans.
Some might argue that we’re currently standing at a critical junction in the history of the Anglican Communion. What are some of the most pressing issues facing Anglican evangelicals in the UK today? Any suggestions on how to address them?
We’re faced with declining congregations across the country as a whole, biblical and theological illiteracy, a culture that increasingly considers traditional Christian teaching to be immoral in various ways, and a serious lack of courageous leadership from our bishops against the popular heresies of our day. Anglican evangelicals have tended to hive off into various subgroups to follow diverse strategies in response to these pressures and challenges.
One thing we could do is start working more closely together, which is why Church Society has made a deliberate effort over the last five years to run joint conferences—with the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), Reform and the Fellowship of Word & Spirit (FWS)—and to reach out in various ways to others within the orbit of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) of which we were founding members. Please do pray for us as we try to be a clear and unifying force amongst evangelicals in the Church of England at such a crucial time.
Update: In February 2018 Church Society, Reform, and the Fellowship of the Word and the Spirit announced plans to merge into a single body to unite their efforts. It seems this is a very real answer to prayer! Reform and FWS will encourage their members to join the Church Society, which will be relaunched at its annual general meeting in May. Church Society has posted several reactions to the proposed merger on their Vimeo channel.
How do you see the impact of GAFCON on the vitality of Anglican evangelicals in the UK?
I was an enthusiastic member of the British delegation to the last GAFCON conference in Nairobi, and am looking forward to going to Jerusalem in 2018. We want to support and stand with our brothers and sisters around the Anglican Communion who are committed to the unchanging and unerring word of God. They are so often a great encouragement to us. I have personally visited partners from GAFCON in the USA, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Chile in recent years to try and serve them, and have come away greatly blessed.
What can Australians do to help our brothers and sisters in the UK?
Please pray for us! There’s a daily feed of prayer requests on the Church Society social media platforms. Come and visit us, and remind us that we are not alone but are part of something bigger than the Church of England. We have benefitted greatly in the past from our links with Australian Anglicans, not least David Peterson who was Principal of Oak Hill Theological College for many years and helped to greatly strengthen our training for ministry. We’d love to read even more good books from you all!