Up to 3,000 worshippers may defect from the Church of England to become part of more traditional Anglican provinces overseas, a leading conservative has warned.

The Rev Rod Thomas, chairman of the Reform network of evangelicals, said some clergy and congregations may make the “radical” move of secession from the established church because of the liberal direction in which it is moving on women bishops and homosexuality.

He claimed the differences are now so great that there effectively two religions within the church, one liberal and one conservative, and that at least 25 parishes are already seeking “alternative oversight” because their bishop does not share their beliefs in tradition and the Bible.

He said he hoped this could be provided by creating new “religious communities”, by getting conservative bishops from other dioceses to provide oversight, or by employing retired English bishops to take over the care of those who did not want to be led by a liberal prelate.

But Mr Thomas added that if this were not possible, clergy could be consecrated by orthodox Anglican bishops in foreign countries before returning to their parishes – which may then lose their Church of England name.

This has already happened in the USA as clergy have abandoned the ultra-liberal Episcopal Church, which is run by a woman and where an openly gay bishop has been elected and same-sex unions blessed, in favour of churches in Africa and South America.

But it would break the moratorium on “border-crossing” demanded by the Archbishop of Canterbury as part of a rescue plan to save the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion from a complete split.

Speaking during the annual conference of Reform in central London, where the plans are being debated, Mr Thomas said: “We are actively going to take forward the agenda of alternative episcopal oversight. We are no longer able to sit back and wait to see what happens.

“The most radical scenario which I don’t discount, but neither am I saying we are pressing for, is where you have a shortlist of names and ask overseas persons to consecrate them so they cater for individuals in this country.”

He said this option could be triggered by a “crisis” such as the General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, introducing women bishops without adequate provision for opponents of the innovation, or by a bishop blessing same-sex unions.

Mr Thomas stressed that he hoped an English solution could be found, such as the establishment of “religious communities” to cover entire parishes that did not want to have a female bishop, or existing bishops taking charge of parishes outside their diocesan boundaries.

But he admitted that alternative oversight may mean parishes cease to identify themselves with the Church of England, and instead with the global “fellowship of confessing Anglicans” established by the Gafcon movement of orthodox Anglicans in Jerusalem earlier this year.

The Gafcon organisers have already set up a council of province leaders and are encouraging clergy around the world to sign up to their declaration of faithfulness to scripture.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.