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Free Church of England Clergy & Laity Call on Bishop Primus to Step Down

AnglicanInk, the website of AnglicanTV, reports further on the situation within the Free Church of England.  In a story written by Julian Mann, a former Church of England and Free Church of England clergyman, an account arises clarifying some of the troubles that had surfaced with the conflict at the FCE congregation in Middlesborough.

 Mann writes quoting from a letter signed by FCE clergy and laity:

“A group of clergy and churchwardens in the Free Church of England has urged their Primus, John Fenwick, to step down this month.

The signatories to a letter sent in February, passed this week to Anglican Ink, have also threatened Bishop Fenwick with a complaint to the Charity Commission of England and Wales about his alleged failure to follow ‘normal processes of accountability’.

The letter went to the FCE’s General Council, which is elected by Convocation, the denomination’s governing body. Among the 15 signatories, who include half of the UK FCE’s active clergy, include Steven Hanna, a former Church of England vicar who is now minister of Christ Church Exeter, Peter Sanlon, also a former CofE vicar, now the FCE’s director of training. and the churchwardens of Christ Church Exmouth, one of the FCE’s largest UK churches. 

The letter declares: ‘We are concerned that leadership decisions being taken by the Bishop of the Northern Diocese and our Primus are endangering the peace and future flourishing of our Church.

‘At a recent General Council meeting, a bishop shared concerns that had been reported to him about Bishop John’s leadership. In response Bishop John gave a lengthy justification, without apology, as to how his behaviour could be defended – but that does not alter the fact that numerous churches are stepping away from our denomination due to his behaviour.

‘Similarly, a number of former C of E ministers are opting to join AMiE (the Anglican Mission in England) rather than join the FCE, saying their reason is primarily due to his leadership. It is undeniable that he has, regrettably, been a cause of disunity.

‘We are a small denomination with a meaningful role to play – but we are repeatedly told that he is the primary reason for difficulties we face. This is not a personal comment or a personalised attack – it is the reason people give for leaving or choosing not to work with the FCE.

‘The Northern Diocese itself, after 15 years under his leadership, is in a parlous state, having only 7 congregations, at least two of which have fewer than 7 members.’ 

The signatories, who mostly serve churches in the FCE’s larger Southern Diocese, also raised concerns about ‘a number of cases of ignoring normal processes of accountability’ which they said the Charity Commission expects the FCE to uphold. They claimed one FCE member told them that ‘there are several prima facie compliance issues which we feel are being ignored and if not addressed will leave no recourse but to report to the Charity Commission’.

Bishop Fenwick is a close colleague of the Anglo-Catholic Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the USA, The Most Revd Ray Sutton.  The REC and FCE share much ecclesiastical history going back to the REC’s departure from the ECUSA in 1873.  Sutton is remembered clearly for his visit to Rome where he was photographed with Bishop Robert Duncan (ACNA) and Pope Benedict XVI.