Church of England
The Church of England (C of E) is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.
The English church renounced papal authority when Henry VIII failed to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1534. The English Reformation accelerated under Edward VI’s regents, before a brief restoration of papal authority under Queen Mary I and King Philip. The Act of Supremacy 1558 renewed the breach, and the Elizabethan Settlement charted a course enabling the English church to describe itself as both catholic and reformed:
- Catholic in that it views itself as a part of the universal church of Jesus Christ in unbroken continuity with the early apostolic church. This is expressed in its emphasis on the teachings of the early Church Fathers, as formalised in the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds.
- Reformed in that it has been shaped by some of the doctrinal principles of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, in particular in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer.
In the earlier phase of the English Reformation there were both Catholic martyrs and radical Protestant martyrs. The later phases saw the Penal Laws punish Roman Catholic and nonconforming Protestants. In the 17th century, the Puritan and Presbyterian factions continued to challenge the leadership of the Church which under the Stuarts veered towards a more catholic interpretation of the Elizabethan Settlement especially under Archbishop Laud and the rise of the concept of Anglicanism as the via media. After the victory of the Parliamentarians, the Prayer Book was abolished and the Presbyterian and Independent factions dominated. The Episcopacy was abolished. The Restoration restored the Church of England, episcopacy and the Prayer Book. Papal recognition of George III in 1766 led to greater religious tolerance.
Since the English Reformation, the Church of England has used a liturgy in English. The church contains several doctrinal strands, the main three known as Anglo-Catholic, evangelical, and broad church. Tensions between theological conservatives and progressives find expression in debates over the ordination of women and homosexuality. The church includes both liberal and conservative clergy and members.
The governing structure of the church is based on dioceses, each presided over by a bishop. Within each diocese are local parishes. The General Synod of the Church of England is the legislative body for the church and comprises bishops, other clergy and laity. Its measures must be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
Early Christianity in England
According to tradition, Christianity arrived in Britain in the 1st or 2nd century, during which time southern Britain became part of the Roman Empire. The earliest historical evidence of Christianity among the native Britons is found in the writings of such early Christian Fathers as Tertullian and Origen in the first years of the 3rd century. Three Romano-British bishops, including Restitutus, are known to have been present at the Council of Arles in 314. Others attended the Council of Serdica in 347 and that of Ariminum in 360, and a number of references to the church in Roman Britain are found in the writings of 4th century Christian fathers. Britain was the home of Pelagius, who opposed Augustine of Hippo’s doctrine of original sin.
While Christianity was long established as the religion of the Britons at the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, Christian Britons made little progress in converting the newcomers from their native paganism. Consequently, in 597, Pope Gregory I sent the prior of the Abbey of St Andrew’s (later canonised as Augustine of Canterbury) from Rome to evangelise the Angles. This event is known as the Gregorian mission and is the date the Church of England generally marks as the beginning of its formal history. With the help of Christians already residing in Kent, Augustine established his church at Canterbury, the capital of the Kingdom of Kent, and became the first in the series of Archbishops of Canterbury in 598. A later archbishop, the Greek Theodore of Tarsus, also contributed to the organisation of Christianity in England. The Church of England has been in continuous existence since the days of St Augustine, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as its episcopal head. Despite the various disruptions of the Reformation and the English Civil War, the Church of England considers itself to be the same church which was more formally organised by Augustine.
While some Celtic Christian practices were changed at the Synod of Whitby, the Christian in the British Isles was under papal authority from earliest times. Queen Bertha of Kent was among the Christians in England who recognised papal authority before Augustine arrived, and Celtic Christians were carrying out missionary work with papal approval long before the Synod of Whitby.
The Synod of Whitby established the Roman date for Easter and the Roman style of monastic tonsure in England. This meeting of the ecclesiastics with Roman customs with local bishops was summoned in 664 at Saint Hilda’s double monastery of Streonshalh (Streanæshalch), later called Whitby Abbey. It was presided over by King Oswiu, who did not engage in the debate but made the final ruling. The final ruling was decided in favor of Roman tradition because St. Peter holds the keys to the gate of Heaven.
Separation from Rome
Main article: English Reformation
In 1534, King Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome. A theological separation had been foreshadowed by various movements within the English Church, such as Lollardy, but the English Reformation gained political support when Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Pope Clement VII, considering that the earlier marriage had been entered under a papal dispensation and how Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V, might react to such a move, refused the annulment. Eventually, Henry, although theologically opposed to Protestantism, took the position of Protector and Supreme Head of the English Church and Clergy to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.
In 1536–40 Henry VIII engaged in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which controlled much of the richest land. He disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided pensions for the former residents. The properties were sold to pay for the wars. Bernard argues:
- The dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s was one of the most revolutionary events in English history. There were nearly 900 religious houses in England, around 260 for monks, 300 for regular canons, 142 nunneries and 183 friaries; some 12,000 people in total, 4,000 monks, 3,000 canons, 3,000 friars and 2,000 nuns….one adult man in fifty was in religious orders.
Henry maintained a strong preference for traditional Catholic practices and, during his reign, Protestant reformers were unable to make many changes to the practices of the Church of England. Indeed, this part of Henry’s reign saw trials for heresy of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics.
Under his son, King Edward VI, more Protestant-influenced forms of worship were adopted. Under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, a more radical reformation proceeded. A new pattern of worship was set out in the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552). These were based on the older liturgy in particular the Prayer Book of 1549, but both influenced by Protestant doctrines such as justification by faith alone, the rejection of the sacrifice of the Mass, and the Real Presence understood as physical presence (Cranmer was Calvinist in that he believed Christ was truly and really present in the Eucharist but after a spiritual manner, although the Words of Administration at the time of Communion were a straightforward statement in the Real Presence as taken from the 1549 BCP and attached to the 1559 book). The confession of the reformed Church of England was set out in the Forty-two Articles (later revised to thirty-nine). The reformation however was cut short by the death of the king. Queen Mary I, who succeeded him, returned England again to the authority of the papacy, thereby ending the first attempt at an independent Church of England. During her co-reign with her husband, King Philip, many leaders and common people were burnt for their refusal to recant of their reformed faith. These are known as the Marian martyrs and the persecution led to her nickname of “Bloody Mary“. See also: Anglican Marian Theology
Mary also died childless and so it was left to the new regime of her half-sister Elizabeth to resolve the direction of the church. The settlement under Queen Elizabeth I (from 1558), known as the Elizabethan Settlement, tried to find a middle way between radical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, the via media (a term that actually only became current in the 1620s), as the character of the Church of England, a church moderately Reformed in doctrine, as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but also emphasising continuity with the Catholic and Apostolic traditions of the Church Fathers. Kneeling reverently to receive communion was the custom. The three-fold ministry in the Apostolic Succession was maintained; the institutional continuity of the Church was preserved without break (at her accession almost all clergy had been ordained in Catholic Orders using the Roman Pontifical) by consecration of bishops in Catholics Orders, although the character of the organization was changed by the adoption of some reformed doctrines, the simplification of the outwards forms of worship and the abandonment of traditional vestments and art work; the retention of medieval Canon Law, liturgical music and a much shortened Calendar of Saints and Feast Days. It was a most peculiar situation: the same organization but with a modified face to the world without much particular character of its own until the notion of Anglicanism as a distinct variety of Christianity emerged very late in her reign and during the reigns of the early Stuart Kings. It was also an established church (constitutionally established by the state with the Head of State as its supreme governor). The exact nature of the relationship between church and state would be a source of continued friction into the next century.
For the next century, through the reigns of James I, who ordered the translation of the Bible known as the King James Version (authorized to be used in parishes which does not mean it was the official version), and Charles I, culminating in the English Civil War and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, there were significant swings back and forth between two factions: the Puritans (and other radicals) who sought more far-reaching Protestant reforms, and the more conservative churchmen who aimed to keep closer to traditional beliefs and Catholic practices. The failure of political and ecclesiastical authorities to submit to Puritan demands for more extensive reform was one of the causes of open warfare. By Continental standards the level of violence over religion was not high, since the Civil War was mainly about politics, but the casualties included King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud and tens of thousands of civilians who died from the unsettled conditions. Under the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of England from 1649 to 1660, the bishops were dethroned and former practices were outlawed, and Presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced in place of the episcopate. The 39 Articles were replaced by the Westminster Confession, the Book of Common Prayer by the Directory of Public Worship. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform to this form of State Presbyterianism.
Union with Church of Ireland
By the Fifth Article of the Union with Ireland 1800, the Church of England and Church of Ireland were united into “one Protestant Episcopal church, to be called, the United Church of England and Ireland”. Although this union was declared “an essential and fundamental Part of the Union”, the Irish Church Act 1869 separated the Irish part of the church again and disestablished it, the Act coming into effect on 1 January 1871.
Main article: Anglican Communion
As the British Empire expanded, British colonists and colonial administrators took the established church doctrines and practices together with ordained ministry and formed overseas branches of the Church of England. As they developed or, beginning with the United States of America, became sovereign or independent states, many of their churches became separate organisationally but remained linked to the Church of England through the Anglican Communion. In the provinces that made up Canada, the Church operated as the “Church of England in Canada” until 1955 when it became the Anglican Church of Canada.
In Bermuda, the oldest remaining English colony (now designated a British Overseas Territory), the first Church of England services were performed by the Reverend Richard Buck, one of the survivors of the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture which initiated Bermuda’s permanent settlement. The nine parishes of the Church of England in Bermuda, each with its own church and glebe land, rarely had more than a pair of ordained ministers to share between them until the Nineteenth Century. From 1825 to 1839, Bermuda’s parishes were attached to the See of Nova Scotia. Bermuda was then grouped into the new Diocese of Newfoundland and Bermuda from 1839. In 1879, the Synod of the Church of England in Bermuda was formed. At the same time, a Diocese of Bermuda became separate from the Diocese of Newfoundland, but both continued to be grouped under the Bishop of Newfoundland and Bermuda until 1919, when Newfoundland and Bermuda each received its own Bishop.
The Church of England in Bermuda was renamed in 1978 as the Anglican Church of Bermuda, which is an extra-provincial diocese, with both metropolitan and primatial authority coming directly from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Among its parish churches is St Peter’s Church in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of St George’s Town, which is both the oldest Anglican and the oldest non-Roman Catholic church in the New World.
The first Anglican missionaries arrived Nigeria in 1842. The first Anglican Nigerian was consecrated a bishop in 1864. However, the arrival of a rival group of Anglican missionaries in 1887 led to infighting that slowed the growth. In this large African colony by 1900 there were only 35,000 Anglicans, about 1/5 of one percent of the population. However, in the late 20th century the Church of Nigeria became the fastest growing of all the Anglican churches, reaching about 18 percent of the local population by 2000.
Deposition from holy orders overturned
Under the guidance of Rowan Williams and with significant pressure from clergy union representatives, the ecclesiastical penalty for convicted felons to be defrocked was set aside from the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. The clergy union argued that the penalty was unfair to victims of hypothetical miscarriages of criminal justice, because the ecclesiastical penalty is considered irreversible. Although clerics can still be banned for life from ministry, they remain ordained as priests.
Continued decline in attendance, and church response
The urgency of the challenge facing us is not in doubt. Attendance at Church of England services has declined at an average of one per cent per annum over recent decades and, in addition, the age profile of our membership has become significantly older than that of the population… Renewing and reforming aspects of our institutional life is a necessary but far from sufficient response to the challenges facing the Church of England. … The age profile of our clergy has also been increasing. Around 40 per cent of parish clergy are due to retire over the next decade or so.
Between 1969 and 2010, almost 1,800 church buildings, roughly 11% of the stock, were closed (so-called “redundant churches”); the majority (70%) in the first half of the period; only 514 being closed between 1990 and 2010. Some active use was being made of about half of the closed churches. By 2019 the rate of closure had steadied at around 20 to 25 per year (0.2%); some being replaced by new places of worship. Additionally, in 2018 the church announced a £27 million growth programme to create 100 new churches.
In 2015 the Church of England admitted that it was embarrassed to be paying staff under the living wage. The Church of England had previously campaigned for all employers to pay this minimum amount. The archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged it was not the only area where the church “fell short of its standards”.
Doctrine and practice
The Church of England’s doctrinal character today is largely the result of the Elizabethan Settlement, which sought to establish a comprehensive middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The Church of England affirms the Protestant Reformation principle that scripture contains all things necessary to salvation and is the final arbiter in doctrinal matters. The Thirty-nine Articles are the church’s only official confessional statement. Though not a complete system of doctrine, the articles highlight areas of agreement with Lutheran and Reformed positions, while differentiating Anglicanism from Roman Catholicism and Anabaptism.
While embracing some themes of the Protestant Reformation, the Church of England also maintains Catholic traditions of the ancient church and teachings of the Church Fathers, unless these are considered contrary to scripture. It accepts the decisions of the first four ecumenical councils concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation. The Church of England also preserves Catholic Order by adhering to episcopal polity, with ordained orders of bishops, priests and deacons. There are differences of opinion within the Church of England over the necessity of episcopacy. Some consider it essential, while others feel it is needed for the proper ordering of the church. In sum these express the ‘Via Media’ viewpoint that the first five centuries of doctrinal development and church order as approved as acceptable be a kind of yardstick by which to gauge authentic catholicity, as minimum and sufficient; Anglicanism did not emerge as the result of charismatic leaders with particular doctrines. It is light on details compared to Roman Catholic, Reformed and Lutheran teachings. The Bible, the Creeds, Apostolic Order, and the administration of the Sacraments are sufficient to establish Catholicity. Indeed, not one major doctrinal development emerged from the English reformation, per Diarmid MacCulloch, The Later Reformation in England, 1990, p. 55. The Reformation in England was initially much concerned about doctrine but the Elizabethan Settlement tried to put a stop to doctrinal contentions. The proponents of further changes, nonetheless, tried to get their way by making changes in Church Order (abolition of bishops), governance (Canon Law) and liturgy (‘too Catholic’). They did not succeed because the Monarchy, the Church and resisted and the majority of the population were indifferent. Moreover, “despite all the assumptions of the Reformation founders of that Church, it had retained a catholic character.” The Elizabethan Settlement had created a cuckoo in a nest…” a Protestant theology and program within a largely pre-Reformation Catholic structure whose continuing life would arouse a theological interest in the Catholicism that had created it; and would result in the rejection of predestinarian theology in favor of sacraments, especially the eucharist, ceremonial, and anti-Calvinist doctrine” (ibid pp. 78–86). The existence of cathedrals “without substantial alteration” and “where the “old devotional world cast its longest shadow for the future of the ethos that would become Anglicanism,” p. 79. This is “One of the great mysteries of the English Reformation,” ibid that there was no complete break with the past but a muddle that was per force turned into a virtue. The story of the English Reformation is the tale of retreat from the Protestant advance of 1550 which could not proceed further in the face of the opposition of the institution which was rooted in the medieval past, ibid. p. 142 and the adamant opposition of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Church of England has, as one of its distinguishing marks, a breadth and “open-mindedness”. This tolerance has allowed Anglicans who emphasise the Catholic tradition and others who emphasise the Reformed tradition to coexist. The three “parties” (see Churchmanship) in the Church of England are sometimes called high church (or Anglo-Catholic), low church (or evangelical Anglican) and broad church (or liberal). The high church party places importance on the Church of England’s continuity with the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, adherence to ancient liturgical usages and the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood. As their name suggests, Anglo-Catholics maintain many traditional Catholic practices and liturgical forms. The low church party is more Protestant in both ceremony and theology. Historically, broad church has been used to describe those of middle-of-the-road ceremonial preferences who lean theologically towards liberal Protestantism. The balance between these strands of churchmanship is not static: in 2013, 40% of Church of England worshippers attended evangelical churches (compared with 26% in 1989), and 83% of very large congregations were evangelical. Such churches were also reported to attract higher numbers of men and young adults than others.
Worship and liturgy
The Church of England’s official book of liturgy as established in English Law is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). In addition to this book the General Synod has also legislated for a modern liturgical book, Common Worship, dating from 2000, which can be used as an alternative to the BCP. Like its predecessor, the 1980 Alternative Service Book, it differs from the Book of Common Prayer in providing a range of alternative services, mostly in modern language, although it does include some BCP-based forms as well, for example Order Two for Holy Communion. (This is a revision of the BCP service, altering some words and allowing the insertion of some other liturgical texts such as the Agnus Dei before communion.) The Order One rite follows the pattern of more modern liturgical scholarship.
The liturgies are organised according to the traditional liturgical year and the calendar of saints. The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist are generally thought necessary to salvation. Infant baptism is practised. At a later age, individuals baptised as infants receive confirmation by a bishop, at which time they reaffirm the baptismal promises made by their parents or sponsors. The Eucharist, consecrated by a thanksgiving prayer including Christ’s Words of Institution, is believed to be “a memorial of Christ’s once-for-all redemptive acts in which Christ is objectively present and effectually received in faith”.
The use of hymns and music in the Church of England has changed dramatically over the centuries. Traditional Choral evensong is a staple of most cathedrals. The style of psalm chanting harks back to the Church of England’s pre-reformation roots. During the 18th century, clergy such as Charles Wesley introduced their own styles of worship with poetic hymns.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the influence of the Charismatic Movement significantly altered the worship traditions of numerous Church of England parishes, primarily affecting those of evangelical persuasion. These churches now adopt a contemporary worship form of service, with minimal liturgical or ritual elements, and incorporating contemporary worship music.
Just as the Church of England has a large conservative or “traditionalist” wing, it also has many liberal members and clergy. Approximately one third of clergy “doubt or disbelieve in the physical resurrection”. Others, such as the Revd Giles Fraser, a contributor to The Guardian, have argued for an allegorical interpretation of the virgin birth of Jesus. The Independent reported in 2014 that, according to a YouGov survey of Church of England clergy, “as many as 16 per cent are unclear about God and two per cent think it is no more than a human construct.” Moreover, many congregations are seeker-friendly environments. For example, one report from the Church Mission Society suggested that the church open up “a pagan church where Christianity [is] very much in the centre” to reach out to spiritual people.
Women were appointed as deaconesses from 1861, but they could not function fully as deacons and were not considered ordained clergy. Women have been lay readers for a long time. During the First World War, some women were appointed as lay readers, known as “bishop’s messengers”, who also led missions and ran churches in the absence of men. After that no more lay readers were appointed until 1969.
Legislation authorising the ordination of women as deacons was passed in 1986 and they were first ordained in 1987. The ordination of women as priests was passed by the General Synod in 1992 and began in 1994. In 2010, for the first time in the history of the Church of England, more women than men were ordained as priests (290 women and 273 men).
In July 2005, the synod voted to “set in train” the process of allowing the consecration of women as bishops. In February 2006, the synod voted overwhelmingly for the “further exploration” of possible arrangements for parishes that did not want to be directly under the authority of a bishop who is a woman. On 7 July 2008, the synod voted to approve the ordination of women as bishops and rejected moves for alternative episcopal oversight for those who do not accept the ministry of bishops who are women. Actual ordinations of women to the episcopate required further legislation, which was narrowly rejected in a vote at General Synod in November 2012. On 20 November 2013, the General Synod voted overwhelmingly in support of a plan to allow the ordination of women as bishops, with 378 in favour, 8 against and 25 abstentions.
On 14 July 2014, the General Synod approved the ordination of women as bishops. The House of Bishops recorded 37 votes in favour, two against with one abstention. The House of Clergy had 162 in favour, 25 against and four abstentions. The House of Laity voted 152 for, 45 against with five abstentions. This legislation had to be approved by the Ecclesiastical Committee of the Parliament before it could be finally implemented at the November 2014 synod. In December 2014, Libby Lane was announced as the first woman to become a bishop in the Church of England. She was consecrated as a bishop in January 2015. In July 2015, Rachel Treweek was the first woman to become a diocesan bishop in the Church of England when she became the Bishop of Gloucester. She and Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton, were the first women to be ordained as bishops at Canterbury Cathedral. Treweek later made headlines by calling for gender-inclusive language, saying that “God is not to be seen as male. God is God.”
In May 2018, the Diocese of London consecrated Dame Sarah Mullally as the first woman to serve as the Bishop of London. Bishop Sarah Mullally occupies the third most senior position in the Church of England. Mullally has described herself as a feminist and will ordain both men and women to the priesthood. She is also considered by some to be a theological liberal. On women’s reproductive rights, Mullally describes herself as pro-choice while also being personally pro-life. On marriage, she supports the current stance of the Church of England that marriage is between a man and a woman, but also said that: “It is a time for us to reflect on our tradition and scripture, and together say how we can offer a response that is about it being inclusive love.”
Same-sex unions and LGBT clergy
The Church of England has been discussing same-sex marriages and LGBT clergy. The church holds that marriage is a union of one man with one woman. However, the church teaches “Same-sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity.” The church also officially supports celibate civil partnerships; “We believe that Civil Partnerships still have a place, including for some Christian LGBTI couples who see them as a way of gaining legal recognition of their relationship.” The “Church of England does not conduct Civil Partnership Ceremonies or Same Sex Marriages but individual churches can conduct a service of thanksgiving after a ceremony.” The church says “clergy in the Church of England are permitted to offer prayers of support on a pastoral basis for people in same-sex relationships;” As such, many Anglican churches, with clergy open to it, “already bless same-sex couples on an unofficial basis.”
Civil partnerships for clergy have been allowed since 2005, and the church extends pensions to clergy in same-sex civil partnerships. In a missive to clergy, the church communicated that “there was a need for committed same-sex couples to be given recognition and ‘compassionate attention’ from the Church, including special prayers.” “There is no prohibition on prayers being said in church or there being a ‘service'” after a civil union. After same-sex marriage was legalised, the church asked for the government to continue to offer civil unions saying “The Church of England recognises that same-sex relationships often embody fidelity and mutuality. Civil partnerships enable these Christian virtues to be recognised socially and legally in a proper framework.”
In 2014, the bishops released guidelines that permit “more informal kind of prayer” for couples. In the guidelines, “gay couples who get married will be able to ask for special prayers in the Church of England after their wedding, the bishops have agreed.” In 2016, The Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Revd Nicholas Chamberlain, announced that he is gay, in a same-sex relationship and celibate, becoming the first bishop to do so in the church. The church had decided in 2013 that gay clergy in civil partnerships could become bishops. “The House [of Bishops] has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate.”
In 2017, the House of Clergy voted against the motion to “take note” of the bishops’ report defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Due to passage in all three houses being required, the motion was rejected. After General Synod rejected the motion, the archbishops of Canterbury and York called for “radical new Christian inclusion” that is “based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.” The church officially opposes “conversion therapy”, a practice which attempts to change a gay or lesbian person’s sexual orientation, calling it unethical and supports the banning of “conversion therapy” in the UK. The Diocese of Hereford approved a motion calling for the church “to create a set of formal services and prayers to bless those who have had a same-sex marriage or civil partnership.”
Regarding transgender issues, the 2017 General Synod voted in favour of a motion saying that transgender people should be “welcomed and affirmed in their parish church”. The motion also asked the bishops “to look into special services for transgender people.” The bishops initially said “the House notes that the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith, found in Common Worship, is an ideal liturgical rite which trans people can use to mark this moment of personal renewal.” The Bishops also authorised services of celebration to mark a gender transition that will be included in formal liturgy. Transgender people may marry in the Church of England after legally making a transition. “Since the Gender Recognition Act , trans people legally confirmed in their gender identity under its provisions are able to marry someone of the opposite sex in their parish church.” The church further decided that same-gender couples may remain married when one spouse experiences gender transition provided that the spouses identified as opposite genders at the time of the marriage. Since 2000, the church has allowed priests to undergo gender transition and remain in office. The church has ordained openly transgender clergy since 2005.
The Church of England is generally opposed to abortion but recognises that “there can be – strictly limited – conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative”. The church also opposes euthanasia. Its official stance is that “While acknowledging the complexity of the issues involved in assisted dying/suicide and voluntary euthanasia, the Church of England is opposed to any change in the law or in medical practice that would make assisted dying/suicide or voluntary euthanasia permissible in law or acceptable in practice.” It also states that “Equally, the Church shares the desire to alleviate physical and psychological suffering, but believes that assisted dying/suicide and voluntary euthanasia are not acceptable means of achieving these laudable goals.” In 2014, George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, announced that he had changed his stance on euthanasia and now advocated legalising “assisted dying”. On embryonic stem-cell research, the church has announced “cautious acceptance to the proposal to produce cytoplasmic hybrid embryos for research”.
In the 19th century, English law required the burial of people who had committed suicide to occur only between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight and without religious rites. The Church of England permitted the use of alternative burial services for people who had committed suicide. In 2017, the Church of England changed its rules to permit the full, standard Christian burial service regardless of whether a person had committed suicide.
Church Urban Fund
The Church of England set up the Church Urban Fund in the 1980s to tackle poverty and deprivation. They see poverty as trapping individuals and communities with some people in urgent need. This leads to dependency, homelessness, hunger, isolation, low income, mental health problems, social exclusion and violence. They feel that poverty reduces confidence and life expectancy and that people born in poor conditions have difficulty escaping their disadvantaged circumstances.
In parts of Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle two-thirds of babies are born to poverty and have poorer life chances, also life expectancy 15 years lower than babies born in most fortunate communities. South Shore, Blackpool, has lowest life expectancy at 66 years for men.
The deep-rooted unfairness in our society is highlighted by these stark statistics. Children being born in this country, just a few miles apart, couldn’t witness a more wildly differing start to life. In child poverty terms, we live in one of the most unequal countries in the western world. We want people to understand where their own community sits alongside neighbouring communities. The disparity is often shocking but it’s crucial that, through greater awareness, people from all backgrounds come together to think about what could be done to support those born into poverty. [Paul Hackwood, the Chair of Trustees at Church Urban Fund]
Action on hunger
Many prominent people in the Church of England have spoken out against poverty and welfare cuts in the United Kingdom. Twenty-seven bishops are among 43 Christian leaders who signed a letter which urged David Cameron to make sure people have enough to eat.
We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must ‘heat or eat’ each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years. Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cutbacks to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.
Benefit cuts, failures and “punitive sanctions” force thousands of UK citizens to use food banks. The campaign to end hunger considers this “truly shocking” and called for a national day of fasting on 4 April 2014.
Official figures from 2005 showed there were 25 million baptised Anglicans in England and Wales. Due to its status as the established church, in general, anyone may be married, have their children baptised or their funeral in their local parish church, regardless of whether they are baptised or regular churchgoers.
Between 1890 and 2001, churchgoing in the United Kingdom declined steadily. In the years 1968 to 1999, Anglican Sunday church attendances almost halved, from 3.5 per cent of the population to 1.9 per cent. By the year 2014, Sunday church attendances had declined further to 1.4 per cent of the population. One study published in 2008 suggested that if current trends were to continue, Sunday attendances could fall to 350,000 in 2030 and just 87,800 in 2050.
In 2011, the Church of England published statistics showing 1.7 million people attending at least one of its services each month, a level maintained since the turn of the millennium; approximately one million participating each Sunday and three million taking part in a Church of England service on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The church also claimed that 30% attend Sunday worship at least once a year; more than 40% attend a wedding in their local church and still more attend a funeral there. Nationally the Church of England baptises one child in ten (2011). In 2015, the church’s statistics showed that 2.6 million people attended a special Advent service, 2.4 million attended a Christmas service, 1.3 million attended an Easter service, and 980,000 attended service during an average week. In 2016, 2.6 million people attended a Christmas service, 1.2 million attended an Easter service, 1.1 million people attended a service in the Church of England each month, an average of 930,000 people attended a weekly service, an additional 180,000 attended a service for school each week, and an average of 740,000 people attended Sunday service. In 2017 Cathedral statistics showed that a total of 135,000 attended a Christmas service, an increase of 13% and overall Sunday attendance has risen from 7000 in 2000 to 18,000 in 2017 which had increased over the past 10 years. Also in 2017, approximately 1.14 million people were a part of the regular worshiping community, meaning those attending church once a month or more, 6.8 million were reached in the Advent campaign, and 2.68 million people attended a Christmas service, representing a slight increase.
The Church of England has 18,000 active ordained clergy and 10,000 licensed lay ministers. In 2009, 491 people were recommended for ordination training, maintaining the level at the turn of the millennium, and 564 new clergy (266 women and 298 men) were ordained. More than half of those ordained (193 men and 116 women) were appointed to full-time paid ministry. In 2011, 504 new clergy were ordained, including 264 to paid ministry, and 349 lay readers were admitted to ministry; and the mode age-range of those recommended for ordination training had remained 40–49 since 1999.
Article XIX (‘Of the Church’) of the 39 Articles defines the church as follows:
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
The British monarch has the constitutional title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The canon law of the Church of England states, “We acknowledge that the Queen’s most excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil.” In practice this power is often exercised through Parliament and on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Church of Ireland and the Church in Wales separated from the Church of England in 1869 and 1920 respectively and are autonomous churches in the Anglican Communion; Scotland’s national church, the Church of Scotland, is Presbyterian, but the Scottish Episcopal Church is in the Anglican Communion.
In addition to England, the jurisdiction of the Church of England extends to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and a few parishes in Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Powys and Radnorshire in Wales which voted to remain with the Church of England rather than joining the Church in Wales. Expatriate congregations on the continent of Europe have become the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe.
The church is structured as follows (from the lowest level upwards):
- Parish is the most local level, often consisting of one church building and community, although many parishes are joining forces in a variety of ways for financial reasons. The parish is looked after by a parish priest who for historical or legal reasons may be called by one of the following offices: vicar, rector, priest in charge, team rector, team vicar. The first, second, and fourth of these may also be known as the ‘incumbent’. The running of the parish is the joint responsibility of the incumbent and the parochial church council (PCC), which consists of the parish clergy and elected representatives from the congregation. The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe is not formally divided into parishes.
- There are a number of local churches that do not have a parish. In urban areas there are a number of proprietary chapels (mostly built in the 19th century to cope with urbanisation and growth in population). Also in more recent years there are increasingly church plants and fresh expressions of church, whereby new congregations are planted in locations such as schools or pubs to spread the Gospel of Christ in non-traditional ways.
- Deanery, e.g., Lewisham or Runnymede. This is the area for which a Rural Dean (or area dean) is responsible. It consists of a number of parishes in a particular district. The rural dean is usually the incumbent of one of the constituent parishes. The parishes each elect lay (non-ordained) representatives to the deanery synod. Deanery synod members each have a vote in the election of representatives to the diocesan synod.
- Archdeaconry, e.g., the seven in the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. This is the area under the jurisdiction of an archdeacon. It consists of a number of deaneries.
- Diocese, e.g., Diocese of Durham, Diocese of Guildford, Diocese of St Albans. This is the area under the jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop, e.g., the Bishops of Durham, Guildford and St Albans, and will have a cathedral. There may be one or more assisting bishops, usually called suffragan bishops, within the diocese who assist the diocesan bishop in his ministry, e.g., in Guildford diocese, the Bishop of Dorking. In some very large dioceses a legal measure has been enacted to create “episcopal areas”, where the diocesan bishop runs one such area himself and appoints “area bishops” to run the other areas as mini-dioceses, legally delegating many of his powers to the area bishops. Dioceses with episcopal areas include London, Chelmsford, Oxford, Chichester, Southwark, and Lichfield. The bishops work with an elected body of lay and ordained representatives, known as the Diocesan Synod, to run the diocese. A diocese is subdivided into a number of archdeaconries.
- Province, i.e., Canterbury or York. This is the area under the jurisdiction of an archbishop, i.e. the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Decision-making within the province is the responsibility of the General Synod (see also above). A province is subdivided into dioceses.
- Primacy, i.e., Church of England. In addition to his specific authority in his own province, each archbishop is “Primate of All England” (Canterbury) or “Primate of England” (York) and has powers that extend over the whole country—for example his licence to marry without the banns (marriage licence).
- Royal Peculiar, a small number of churches which are more closely associated with the Crown, and, a very few more closely associated with the law, and are outside the usual church hierarchy though conforming to the rite. These are outside episcopal jurisdiction.
The second most senior bishop is the Archbishop of York, who is the metropolitan of the northern province of England, the Province of York. For historical reasons (relating to the time of York’s control by the Danes) he is referred to as the Primate of England. John Sentamu became Archbishop of York in 2005. The Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham and the Bishop of Winchester are ranked in the next three positions.
The process of appointing diocesan bishops is complex, due to historical reasons balancing hierarchy against democracy, and is handled by the Crown Nominations Committee which submits names to the Prime Minister (acting on behalf of the Crown) for consideration.
The Church of England has a legislative body, the General Synod. Synod can create two types of legislation, measures and canons. Measures have to be approved but cannot be amended by the British Parliament before receiving the Royal Assent and becoming part of the law of England. Although it is the established church in England only, its measures must be approved by both Houses of Parliament including the non-English members. Canons require Royal Licence and Royal Assent, but form the law of the church, rather than the law of the land.
Another assembly is the Convocation of the English Clergy, which is older than the General Synod and its predecessor the Church Assembly. By the 1969 Synodical Government Measure almost all of the Convocations’ functions were transferred to the General Synod. Additionally, there are Diocesan Synods and deanery synods, which are the governing bodies of the divisions of the Church.
House of Lords
Of the 42 diocesan archbishops and bishops in the Church of England, 26 are permitted to sit in the House of Lords. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York automatically have seats, as do the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester. The remaining 21 seats are filled in order of seniority by consecration. It may take a diocesan bishop a number of years to reach the House of Lords, at which point he becomes a Lord Spiritual. The Bishop of Sodor and Man and the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe are not eligible to sit in the House of Lords as their dioceses lie outside the United Kingdom.
Although they are not part of England or the United Kingdom, the Church of England is also the Established Church in the Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The Isle of Man has its own diocese of Sodor and Man, and the Bishop of Sodor and Man is an ex officio member of the Legislative Council of the Tynwald on the island. The Channel Islands are part of the Diocese of Winchester, and in Jersey the Dean of Jersey is a non-voting member of the States of Jersey. In Guernsey the Church of England is the Established Church, although the Dean of Guernsey is not a member of the States of Guernsey.
See also: Anglican Communion sexual abuse cases
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has made some effort to prevent complaints of sex abuse cases being covered up. Independent investigators are examining files as far back as the 1950s and Welby hopes this independence will prevent any possibility of a cover-up.
We will systematically bring those transparently and openly first of all working with the survivors where they are still alive and then seeing what they want. The rule is survivors come first, not our own interests, and however important the person was, however distinguished, however well-known, survivors come first. (Justin Welby)
The personal files of all Church of England clergy since the 1950s are being audited in an effort to ensure no cover-up. Welby emphasised repeatedly that no cover-up would be acceptable.
Despite such assurances there is concern that not enough may be done and historic abuse may still sometimes be covered up. Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society stated:
The problem wasn’t that bishops weren’t trained in such matters, it is the institutional culture of denial and the bullying of the abused and whistleblowers into silence. One report suggests that 13 bishops ignored letters written in the 1990s warning of abuse by Ball on behalf of a victim who later committed suicide. I have seen evidence that such bullying persists to this day. I hope that the Archbishop’s review into the case of Peter Ball will deal with such bullying and what appears to be the undue influence exerted on the police and CPS by the Church in dealing with this case. The total failure of procedures, outlined by Ian Elliott, echoes that revealed in the totally damning Cahill Report about the conduct of the Archbishop Hope of York in respect of Robert Waddington. The current Archbishop of York has decided that this report should remain in printed form rather than be more widely available on the web.
Bishop Peter Ball was convicted in October 2015 on several charges of indecent assault against young adult men. There are allegations of large-scale earlier cover-ups involving many British establishment figures which prevented Ball’s earlier prosecution. There have also been allegations of child sex abuse, for example Robert Waddington. A complainant, known only as “Joe”, tried for decades to have action taken over sadistic sex abuse which Garth Moore perpetrated against him in 1976 when “Joe” was 15 years old. None of the high ranking clergy who “Joe” spoke to recall being told about the abuse, which “Joe” considers incredible. A representative of the solicitors firm representing “Joe” said:
The Church of England wants to bury and discourage allegations of non-recent abuse. They know how difficult it is for survivors to come forward, and it appears from this case that the Church has a plan of making it hard for these vulnerable people to come forward. This survivor has had the courage to press his case. Most do not. Most harbour the psychological fallout in silence. We need to find a way to make the system more approachable for survivors.
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