Welsh Anglicans gather around ‘Essentials’

Mar 19, 2019 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“If you despise the day of small things, the Church in Wales is not for you”, said the Archdeacon of Cardigan. The comment received a loud ripple of chuckles from the 150 strong assembly of the inaugural meeting of Anglican Essentials Wales on 15th and 16th March. Anglicans in Wales are not numerous, and declining; few congregations number over 100. On one level the modesty is justified.

But at the same time, this gathering represents a significant statement. As was pointed out, an equivalent conference taking place in the Church of England, aiming to unite different constituencies of conservative evangelical, charismatic and anglo-catholic, around an agreed agenda of theological orthodoxy in the face of a revisionist hierarchy, would need to number 5000 people to reflect the same proportion of the national church as a whole.

Also, the Essentials Wales meeting signalled genuine unity in diversity: delegates were of a range of ages with a good number under 40; the worship (with distinctive Welsh singing) was consciously a mixture of traditional and contemporary; female clergy shared the compering duties with traditionalist complementarians; clear bible-based evangelical preaching took place next to candles. A reformed theological seminary was commended by one speaker, the Walsingham pilgrimage by the next!

Archdeacon Strange’s introductory talk set the scene. The Church in Wales is at a crossroads. The authority of Scripture, and the gospel of Christ based on the apostolic deposit is apparently no longer accepted by much of the Church’s leadership, who derive an understanding of God’s character and a vision of human flourishing from experience and anecdote. Christ is presented as a good option among many, illustrating God’s love rather than uniquely achieving salvation. And Bishops appear to genuinely believe that uncritically embracing tenets of progressive politics, and new ideologies of sexual liberation, is being counter-cultural rather than being subservient to the spirit of the age.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali gave the first address, on ‘Mission and authority’, and also closed the conference by presiding at the Communion service. He reminded the gathering that Anglicanism has always been clear about Scripture having the final authority, not only over tradition and reason, but also over cultural norms and in ethical issues thrown up by contemporary science. He devoted some time with his customary clarity to setting out key principles of interpretation of Scripture. While Christianity has always been very flexible in translating itself into different culture, Anglican leaders in one culture act unilaterally should not go against the authoritative controls of orthodoxy, and create something unrecognizable by other faithful Christians. He ended by calling on Anglican Essentials Wales to become a movement for renewal and reform.

The authoritative Scriptures tell of the human condition of alienation from God through sin, and present Jesus as unique Saviour and Lord. Such a message is being undermined in the Church in Wales as in other Western Anglican Provinces, but the faithful can make a difference by preaching it with confidence. This was the theme of the second talk, by Lee Gatiss, who showed from church history going back to the early fathers, and from the Anglican formularies rooted in the Reformation, that authentic Christian mission has always been based on the understanding that faith in Christ alone is essential for salvation.

The diversity of the conference was illustrated further on day two, when the main speakers were Lorna Ashworth, a conservative evangelical formerly of General Synod and Archbishops’ Council, and Philip North. Not surprisingly, the Bishop of Burnley steered clear of comments about theological differences between the conference delegates and their Bishops. He began by affirming his adherence to evangelical understandings of Scripture and the person and work of Christ, but recognised that many in his audience would not necessarily agree with some of his focus, which was on the need for the church to take seriously the power of the sacraments to visually illustrate the message of Christ’s death, our need for conversion, the subversion of the world’s values.

Mrs Ashworth took Paul’s evangelistic principle of being “all things to all people” to explore how the faithful church can remove unnecessary obstacles to make the gospel culturally relevant, while being counter-cultural in not compromising on the essentials of the faith, trusting in the Spirit’s work. Her talk was followed by heartfelt exchanges during the question time, on some realities of practical application, including the pain and tension felt by those who want to remain faithful to Jesus and his word, when a loved one embraces the gay lifestyle.

The development of a grassroots orthodox movement is timely, given the clear signal from the Welsh Bishops that the revisionist programme will continue. The name ‘Anglican Essentials’ takes its name from a similar vision in Canada in the mid-1990’s, which eventually led to the formation of the Anglican Network, part of the Anglican Church in North America. There was no discussion at this conference of a similar secession; rather, for the moment, a determination to unite within Welsh Anglicanism around the restatement of Christian truth, and commitment to mutual encouragement and continued evangelistic mission in the face of an increasingly hostile environment in church and nation.

The Anglican Essential Wales Statement of Faith can be found on their website, which will soon feature a Communique from the conference.


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