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UK: WITHOUT LOCAL STEWARDSHIP TRUSTS RENEW WON'T BE RENEWING

UK: WITHOUT LOCAL STEWARDSHIP TRUSTS RENEW WON'T BE RENEWING

By Julian Mann
Special To Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
March 6, 2019

In January Rod Thomas, the Bishop of Maidstone, and Johnny Juckes, the President of Oak Hill College in north London, ran an event for people thinking of getting ordained in the Church of England.

Given the constituency that gravitates towards Oak Hill as its theological college of choice, one imagines that the clientele at this event was mainly drawn from conservative evangelical churches in England. So, what would life be like for a young man now in his 20s, who truly believes the official biblical doctrine of the Church of England as expressed in its 39 Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal, in 20 years' time as an ordained minister?

Would he get in trouble under the Clergy Discipline Measure for refusing to conduct a service celebrating a person's gender transition? Would he be disciplined by his bishop, prosecuted by the British State or both for Islamophobia for refusing to take part in a multi-faith service? Could he be subject to a dawn raid by the police, his home searched and his lap top removed and then charged with homophobia for declaring in church that marriage in God's eyes is between one man and one woman for life?

The real possibility of these things happening, given present trends, surely adds a particular poignancy to the question explored at the Oak Hill event: why get ordained in the Church of England indeed?

Since 2013, conservative evangelical leaders serving the type of church our young man would be attending have been gathering at the ReNew annual conference in late September. ReNew, with its 'Shoulder to Shoulder' strapline, was formed as a partnership between Reform and Church Society within the CofE and the Anglican Mission in England outside its structures. In 2018 Reform and Church Society merged so ReNeW now comprises the new Reform Church Society grouping and AMiE, which according to its website has 14 churches in its network, compared with around 16,000 in the CofE.

So, for the sake of those thinking of getting ordained in the CofE, surely it is worth exploring the question how effective the ReNew movement might be, if it is still going, in supporting our young man in 20 years' time? He is likely to be in a very different situation from the minister who referred him for ordination selection. Because of the deteriorating financial situation in the CofE, he won't be serving just one well-resourced church; he will be running around several small and struggling congregations, possibly more, in dioceses where coercive theological liberalism rules, very different from the old-fashioned 'live and let live' stripe.

What would ReNew be able to do for him? Would it be able to support him in leaving the Church of England and taking the Lord Jesus Christ's sheep with him into a better Anglican connection where they will not be ravaged by false teaching?

Unless ReNew starts positively supporting local stewardship trusts now, the painful practical truth is that it won't be able to support him and his fellow refugees then. Under current UK charity law, stewardship trusts have the capacity to own property and deploy ministers across a region. Unless the British State decides to get really nasty and ban such trusts, they would therefore be able to provide an exit route for churches and ministers leaving the CofE. But the evidence on the ground is that the ReNew leadership is resisting the setting up of such regional trusts.

I was at a meeting last year of a regional ReNew group where I had asked beforehand that the idea of setting up a local trust be positively explored. I tried to further the idea at the meeting but it would appear that the cold water that was poured on it had been lined up in advance. There were two members of the planning committee of the ReNew national conference present and their argument was that most of the churches in this regional group were 'net-receiving' -- they didn't pay for their ministry costs -- and so were not in a position to 'play hard-ball' with the diocese by being part of an independent trust.

It is of course true that the larger conservative evangelical churches would need to take the financial lead in paying into such trusts. But smaller churches could also do their bit. For example, if they were left a legacy, they could pay part of that in. So, the stated reason for not setting up a local trust did not seem convincing.

In his 1946 book, Why I write, George Orwell disparaged 'shoulder to shoulder' as a vacuous cliche. Unless the ReNew leadership starts taking practical action to promote local stewardship trusts and the larger conservative evangelical churches share resources in this way, 'shoulder to shoulder' would read a lot more painfully than a cliche for a confessing Anglican in 2039 who as an enthusiastic young man went to the 'Why get ordained in the Church of England' event in 2019.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK - www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk

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