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Stockpiling assets ahead of a split?

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 29 Oct 2018

Lee Gatiss examines the idea that evangelicals are stockpiling assets and preparing to leave the Church of England

I was interviewed last week for BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, which aired yesterday. It can be listened to or downloaded here (a 6 minute segment starting around 23:40). It was publicised as a piece about whether evangelicals are “stockpiling assets ahead of a split”.

Evangelicals are not stockpiling anything. What we do is use our resources for the sake of the gospel. We spend to invest in ministry, which often means funding people doing it or buying / hiring venues for it. Church Society publishes a book on that, called Building for the Gospel, to help people think through the issues. But there’s no appetite for just buying property for the sake of it, like some ecclesiastical monopoly game. The man in Jesus’ parable who stockpiled his Master’s money instead of putting it to good use was not praised (Matthew 25:14-30), but cast into outer darkness!

When we do buy property, evangelicals naturally think long term, like everybody else. We think what might happen if the Church of England took a turn for the worse, sure. But that’s not the only consideration, and we’re working hard to try and make sure that doesn’t happen. However, we remember that because of an egregious overreach in ecclesiastical legislation some time ago, dioceses have a claim on all PCC property. Section 6 of the Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure of 1956 as amended by the Ecclesiastical Property Measure 2015 forces us to make sure anything we want to keep safe for gospel use in the event of a catastrophic failure in the Church of England needs to be bought by someone other than the PCC.

To see what happens otherwise, one only needs to see the use to which the similar Dennis Canon in the Episcopal Church in America was used. In one case, which we have discussed in detail, the denomination sued a local church, evicted a pastor, and sold the building to become an Islamic Awareness Centre (for a third of the price the locals offered to buy their own church back).

The British scene may be different from America, but we’d be fools not to take these sorts of possibilities into consideration. I have long been pointing out the lamentable credibility gap which exists between some official statements about how we are being encouraged to “flourish” in the Church of England, and our actual experience as evangelicals on the ground. And frankly, some of the current rhetoric against traditional Anglican theology and practice is so shrill and negative that we have good cause to be wary, as we have been for some time.

For example, Rosie Harper was interviewed on the same Radio 4 programme as me, and made it clear that she thinks conservative Christians are “unable” to respect the “human dignity of gay people”. She thinks people like me should all “leave so that they feel happier about themselves”. A more sneeringly slanderous and evidentially ridiculous claim it is hard to imagine, and it’s puzzling why someone with so little understanding of what Anglican theology actually is could be again trotted out as a supposedly intelligent and informed critic of it.

There were lots of things I said in the recorded BBC interview which weren’t used in the final cut, of course, including how evangelicals have set up trusts to pay for additional staff, to reach more people with the good news of Jesus, and also to help poorer parishes pay their parish shares — neither of which indicate any intention to leave the C of E, but only to strengthen it. If we wanted to leave, we could easily do so — AMiE exists for just this reason, supported by GAFCON and in warm gospel fellowship with us.

But one reason that trusts, and especially property purchases, are set up outside diocesan clutches is because people like their money to be spent and used in ways they decide, rather than how the diocese might want to in years to come. In that sense, evangelicals are no different to anybody else, except that our agenda is radical evangelisation of our spiritually needy nation. That isn’t always what dioceses are known for spending money on and, especially when many dioceses are struggling or going broke, it’s no wonder many growing churches are thinking outside that box when considering how best to invest in the future. After all, we have to give an account one day to our Master — for our teaching, for our living, and for all our spending. So while we remain steadfast in our commitment to the Church of England, we must also be wise in our stewardship of resources.

Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society

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