EVANGELICALS HAVE LONG admired the great 18th century preacher Charles Simeon. This is not only because of his dogged perseverance in preaching biblical truth but also because of the strategic action he took to promote evangelicalism within the Church of England. His action in buying up advowsons meant that by the turn of the century the Simeon Trust was able to oversee appointments to over 100 livings.

While many today still seek to emulate his example by faithful exposition of God’s word, the process of securing evangelical ‘livings’ is a more difficult matter. The days of purchasing patronage are long gone; nowadays transfers of patronage are regulated by the Patronage Benefices Measure 1986. Such a transfer can occur only if all parties, including the Diocesan Bishop, agree to it. However, patronage itself no longer has the impact it did. The suspension of livings has now become widespread; and where a suspension occurs, the role of patrons is consultative.

Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of Simeon’s tactics lies somewhere in the field of church-planting, because it is here that Anglican churches can be created and their future determined by the terms on which they are established. If a church wants to extend its gospel outreach by planting a church in its own parish, there are relatively few legal difficulties, but the likelihood of such a plant being guaranteed evangelical leadership in the long run depends substantially on what happens within the parent church. However, a church may want to plant outside its own parish. If so, the difficulties quickly mount. What then, are their options?

One option is to create proprietary chapels. Historically, such chapels have been brought into existence by people of different churchmanships for a variety of reasons. Where they are genuinely independent (i.e. not part of an institutional set up such as a university college) they hold a number of attractions. The trustees can sit loose to canon law; and the terms under which appointments are made can require that only evangelicals are appointed. Sometimes they declare a preference for Anglican incumbents, but in some cases other denominations can also be mentioned.

However, proprietary chapels have drawbacks so far as Anglicans are concerned. Where an Anglican minister is appointed, his appointment is subject not just to the approval of the Diocesan Bishop but also to that of the vicar of the parish in which the chapel is situated. For some of our more radical incumbents, this is of no consequence: if the Church of England does not want to accommodate a particular gospel ministry because of parochial protectiveness, this should not be allowed to prevent the gospel being spread. A proprietary chapel can still be set up. What does it matter if the minister is not an Anglican, so long as he is a faithful gospel worker?

An alternative is to set up a plant and seek to have it legally recognised as an Extra Parochial Place (EPP) under the 1983 Pastoral Measure. EPPs were originally intended to provide for places of worship that would be complementary to the parish system – such as at Army camps. However, last November EPP status was legally given to a new church in Deal, Kent. Known as The Carpenter’s Arms, the church has the specific agenda of reaching sections of the population that none of the local Anglican churches are successfully attracting. Its geographical ‘area’ is the deanery, and all the local Anglican churches are in agreement about the need for it. This initiative has created an important precedent: the recognition that it is appropriate to set up churches to cater for people who are connected less by the geographical area of the parish than by other networks of relationships.

Those interested in the reform of the Church of England as a means of evangelising the nation ought perhaps to look more actively to church planting as a positive means of influence. Now that one Diocese has recognised the value of cutting across parish boundaries to further the church’s mission, why shouldn’t others? And why shouldn’t the justification be that, in many cases, people are more connected by the network of relationships involved in their churchmanship than by the fact that they live in a particular parish? If at the end of the day such an effort failed through lack of agreement, the option of the proprietary chapel would still remain.

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