Free Church of England

The Free Church of England (FCE) is an episcopal church based in England. The church was founded when a number of congregations separated from the established Church of England in the middle of the 19th century.[2]

Free Church of England
Free Church of England logo.png
AssociationsReformed Episcopal Church, GAFCON
RegionEngland, France, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela
Separated fromChurch of England
Official Edit this at Wikidata

The doctrinal basis of the FCE, together with its episcopal structures, organisation, worship, ministry and ethos are recognisably "Anglican" although it is not a member of the Anglican Communion. Its worship style follows that of the Book of Common Prayer or conservative modern-language forms that belong to the Anglican tradition.

Although predating it, the FCE is generally considered to be a part of the Continuing Anglican movement.

The Church of England acknowledges the FCE as a church with valid Orders and its canons permit a range of shared liturgical and ministerial activities.


The Free Church of England was founded principally by Evangelical or Low Church clergy and congregations in response to what were perceived as attempts (inspired by the Oxford Movement) to re-introduce medieval Roman Catholic dogmas and practices into the Established Church. The first congregation was formed by the Revd. James Shore at St John's Church Bridgetown, Totnes, Devon, in 1844.[3] A number of additional congregations were soon established in the West Country.

In the early years, clergy were often provided by the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion which had its origins in the 18th century Evangelical Revival. By the middle of the 19th century the Connexion still retained many Anglican features such as the use of the surplice and the Book of Common Prayer.[4] In 1863 the annual conference of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion created a constitution for the new congregations under the title "The Free Church of England" (though the name had been in use since the 1840s).

The constitution made provision for the creation of dioceses, each to be under the oversight of a bishop. The first bishop was Benjamin Price, who initially had oversight of all the new congregations.

In 1874 the FCE made contact with the newly organised Reformed Episcopal Church in North America.[5] The founding bishop of the REC, George David Cummins, had been strongly influenced by William Augustus Muhlenberg, who advocated "Evangelical Catholicism" as a means of combining the best of both the Evangelical and Catholic traditions. In 1876 an REC bishop from Canada, Edward Cridge, came to the United Kingdom and consecrated Benjamin Price and John Sugden in the historic succession. The following year a branch of the REC was founded in the UK.

The two churches lived in parallel until 1927, when the Free Church of England united with the UK branch of the Reformed Episcopal Church. The full name of the united church since 1927 is "The Free Church of England", otherwise called the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In 1956, the FCE published a revision of the Book of Common Prayer to form the primary text of the denomination's liturgy. The stated intention of the revision was to remove or explain "particular phrases and expressions" from the Church of England's 1662 edition of the prayer book that "afford at least plausible ground for the teaching and practice of the Sacerdotal and Romanising Party."[6]

In 2003, due to the adoption of High Church practices by the FCE, two bishops and ten congregations split from the main Church (though three have returned - the current FCE churches in Exeter, Middlesbrough and Oswaldtwistle) and formed the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England.[7] Two churches in Farnham and Teddington having become independent altogether, the ECFCE currently has five churches in Fleetwood, Leeds, Leigh-on-Sea, Tuebrook (Liverpool) and Workington.[8]

In 2020 eight Churches that were part of the main body of the Free Church of England left to operate independently. They reject the rule of the current Primus John Fenwick and are organised under their own co-ordinator, the Rev Grahame Wray of Leeds. The Connexion holds to the character and government of the FCE (episcopal, liturgical, and Evangelical) and its understanding of the founding principles of being Anglican, Calvinist, Reformed, Evangelical, and Presbyterian. Reunification with the main body of the FCE is only likely to take place after the retirement of the current FCE Primus, due to members of the Connexion believing that he has imposed on the Church a different model of leadership.


The Free Church of England is a conventional Anglican church body, worshipping in the Low Church tradition and holding to the principles of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles. Presbyters and deacons wear surplice, scarf and hood; bishops wear rochet and chimere, though a wider range of liturgical vesture is in use.

The church has recently[when?] created the category of "associate congregations". These are pre-existing groups of Christians who have come under the oversight of the FCE bishops but continue their existing liturgical practice.

Some of the parishes have youth activities of various kinds. Each congregation elects churchwardens and delegates who, together with the clergy, constitute the diocesan synod and annual convocation.

The provision of contemporary language liturgies has been approved by convocation and a process of drafting and authorisation has begun. The church has continued to ordain bishops in the apostolic succession, with Moravian, Church of England and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church bishops taking part on occasion.[9]

The presiding bishop is chosen annually by convocation and has the title "Bishop Primus". Only baptised males are ordained to Holy Orders as bishops, presbyters, and deacons, or admitted to the public teaching office of Reader. In 2017, there were 26 clergy (excluding retirees) and around 900 members of the FCE in England.

The Central Board of Trustees for the denomination, The Free Church of England Central Trust, operates as a registered UK charity (No. 271151) and is a company limited by guarantee with no share capital. It holds as loans funds deposited by the churches for investment and lends money and makes grants to further the objects and work of the FCE.


The united church enjoyed modest growth in the first part of the 20th century, having at one point 90 congregations, but after the Second World War, like most other denominations in the UK, suffered a decline in numbers, though there has been a modest increase in the number of congregations in recent years.[10] Currently, the Free Church of England has two dioceses in England (designated North and South) and one in South America, comprising congregations in Brazil and Venezuela. There are 18 churches in England, divided between the two dioceses. The bishop of the Northern Diocese is John Fenwick, while the bishop of the Southern Diocese is Paul Hunt. The 18 UK churches are located as follows:

Holy Trinity Church Free Church of England, Oswaldtwistle

Northern Diocese

Diocesan website:[11]


  • –1917: William Troughton
  • 1927–1958: Frank Vaughan
  • 1958–1967: Thomas Cameron
  • 1967–1973: James Burrell
  • 1973–1998: Cyril Milner
  • 1999–2003: Arthur Bentley-Taylor
  • 2003–2006: John McLean
  • 2006–present: John Fenwick
Church Location Founded Link Minister Notes
St George, Mill Hill Blackburn, Lancashire 1907 [12] Kenneth Howles
Emmanuel, Morecambe Morecambe, Lancashire 1886 Vacant
Holy Trinity, Oswaldtwistle Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire 1870 [13][better source needed] Anthony Roberts
St John with Trinity, Tottington Tottington, Greater Manchester 1853 John Fenwick, Arthur Kay
St David, Preston Preston, Lancashire 1939 Tom de Lacey Previously an unaffiliated Anglican church
Christ Church, Liscard Liscard, Merseyside 1880 Trevor Hutchinson
St Augustine, Isle of Man Douglas, Isle of Man 2016 [14] Sir Laurence New (Reader) Joined FCE 2020. Meets in Jim Crosbie Memorial Hall, Derby Road, Douglas. IM2 3EN
Impact Community Church Hollinwood, Greater Manchester [15] Elijah Boswell Associate church

St Stephen's, Middlesbrough closed its building in 2017. The church continued to meet in a community centre but closed in 2021.[16]

Southern Diocese

Diocesan website:[17]


  • 1889–1896: Benjamin Price
  • 1896–1901: Samuel Dicksee
  • 1904–1927: Richard Brook Lander
  • 1927–1934: Joseph Fenn
  • 1934–1955: John Magee
  • 1955–1968: George Forbes-Smith
  • 1968–1971: Ambrose Bodfish
  • 1972–1976: William Watkins
  • 1977–1990: Arthur Ward
  • 1990–2006: Kenneth Powell
  • 2007–present: Paul Hunt


Church Location Founded Link Minister Notes
St Jude, Balham Balham, London 1887 [18] Mark Gretason
St Andrew, Bentley Bentley, West Midlands 1943 [19] Paul Hunt
St Jude, Chuckery Walsall, West Midlands 1909 [20] joined FCE 1947
Emmanuel, Birmingham Saltley, West Midlands 1903 Daniel Choe
Christ Church, Broadstairs Broadstairs, Kent 1904 Vacant
Christ Church, Exeter Exeter, Devon 1844 Steven Hanna
Christ Church, Harlesden Harlesden, London 1886 Robert Wilson
Christ Church, Willesborough Willesborough, Ashford, Kent 1874 Jabson Watson
St Francis, Shoreham-by-Sea Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex 2012 [21] Gerald Kirsch
St Paul's, Bexhill-on-Sea Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex 1928 [22] P. Gadsden joined FCE 2021

Christ Church in Crowborough, East Sussex was founded in 1879 and remained in use by the Free Church of England until the early 21st century. It is now an independent Evangelical church.[23]

Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells, was founded in 2016 and joined the FCE in 2019. Its minister, Peter Sanlon, had previously been a Church of England minister. In May 2021 the church announced it was withdrawing from the FCE following concerns about governance in the FCE and the conduct of Bishop John Fenwick.[24] The same decision was taken by Christ Church, Exmouth (founded 1896; minister Josep Rosello),[25] and Christ Church Balham (founded in 2002 as an independent Anglican church; joined FCE 2019[26]).

St Peter's, Croydon, was a new FCE church in 2018,[27] but it is no longer listed on the diocesan website.

South American Diocese

The work in South America, comprising 25 congregations, was recognised as an Overseas Diocese by the Convocation held in June 2018. The 16 Brazilian congregations are registered as the Anglican Reformed Church of Brazil (Portuguese: Igreja Anglicana Reformada do Brasil; IARB),[28] with the other 9 located in Venezuela. The Bishop of the Diocese is the Right Revd. Josep Rossello; Bishop Rossello is married with one daughter and lives in Exmouth.

On 5 May 2021, the South American Diocese withdrew from the FCE, citing a 'total loss of confidence in the leadership of the FCE' and 'abuses of power committed by Bishop John Fenwick.'[29]

Overseas churches

From the 19th century congregations of the Free Church of England have been planted in other parts of the world, though most of these have not survived. Currently, there are congregations in Russia (under the oversight of Paul Hunt, Bishop of the Southern Diocese) and France (where there is a commissary of the Bishop Primus).

  • Russia:
    • Christ the Saviour, St Petersburg. Minister: The Revd Sergei Makov
  • France:

Recognition of Orders

In January 2013 it was announced that the Church of England had recognised the Orders of the Free Church of England.[30] This move followed approximately three years of contact between the bishops of the Free Church of England, the Council for Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission. The recognition was not voted on by the General Synod but was endorsed by the standing committee of the House of Bishops. John McLean, the then Bishop Primus of the Free Church of England, said: "We are grateful to the archbishops for this recognition of our common episcopal heritage. I pray that it will not be an end in itself, but will lead to new opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel." Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford and chair of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, said: "I hope there will be good relations between us and especially in those places where there is a Free Church of England congregation."[31]

Recognition of the Orders of the Free Church of England under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967 means that FCE clergy are eligible to be given permission under that Measure to officiate in the Church of England, subject to such procedures and authorisations as may be required. A number have been so authorised while remaining clergy of the FCE in good standing. The measure also permits FCE bishops to ordain and perform other episcopal functions at the request of the bishop of a diocese in the provinces of Canterbury and York, subject to the consent of the relevant archbishop.[32] In recent years[when?] FCE bishops have licensed clergy of the Church of England to officiate in FCE contexts while remaining members of the Established Church.


The FCE is in communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, which itself is now a member of the Anglican Church in North America. Within the UK the FCE is a member of the Free Churches Group[33] and Churches Together in England. From 1992 to 1997 the FCE was in official dialogue with the Church of England, which the 1998 Lambeth Conference saw as a sign of hope.[34] It is a Designated Church under the Church of England's Ecumenical Relations Measure 1988.[35]

FCE bishops have attended the enthronements of George Carey, Rowan Williams and Justin Welby as Archbishops of Canterbury. The Free Church of England was in dialogue with the Churches of the Union of Scranton for a time.[36] Recently[when?] the Polish National Catholic Church (the larger partner in the Union of Scranton) has suspended dialogue with the Anglican Church in North America and the Free Church of England (as a church with which the ACNA is in communion) because of concerns about the ordination of women in some sub-jurisdictions of the former.

Anglican realignment

The FCE has been involved in the realignments within the Anglican Communion. In 2009 the Church was represented at the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK & Ireland), the local expression of the GAFCON movement inaugurated the previous year in Jerusalem.[citation needed] In October 2013, the Bishop Primus John Fenwick attended the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON 2) in Nairobi. He has been consulted in the restructuring of GAFCON UK (the successor body to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK & Ireland)) under the leadership of Bishop Andy Lines, the ACNA Missionary Bishop endorsed by the GAFCON Primates.[37]

In February 2016, Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, signed an instrument declaring the Anglican Church in North America to be in full communion with the Free Church of England, and recognising 'their congregations, clergy, and sacraments, while pledging to work together for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the making of his disciples throughout the world'. Archbishop Beach's declaration was ratified by the Provincial Council of the ACNA in June 2016.[citation needed]

In June 2017, Archbishop Beach attended the annual Convocation of the Free Church of England and a special service to mark the 90th anniversary of the union of the original Free Church of England with the UK branch of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Also in 2017 the Free Church of England hosted three 'Anglican Unity Fora' in an attempt to bring together orthodox Anglicans in a common witness in the UK. That now continues under the umbrella of the re-structured GAFCON UK. In June 2018 a delegation of seven FCE members (including two bishops) attended GAFCON III, in Jerusalem.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Free Church of England Convocation Report, 2017.
  2. ^ Richard D. Fenwick, "The Free Church of England otherwise called the Reformed Episcopal Church c. 1845 to c. 1927", PhD thesis, University of Wales, 1995.
  3. ^ Grayson Carter, Anglican Evangelicals. Protestant Secessions from the via media, c.1800-1850 (2001/15)
  4. ^ John Fenwick, The Free Church of England: Introduction to an Anglican Tradition, London, Continuum, 2004, pp. 9-33.
  5. ^ Allen C. Guelzo, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians, Pennsylvania, State University Press, 1994, pp. 224-227.
  6. ^ Free Church of England (January 1956). The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies for use in the Free Church of England otherwise called the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott Ltd.
  7. ^ "History and other fce – Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England". Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  8. ^ "Churches – Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England". Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  9. ^ John Fenwick, The Forgotten Bishops: The Malabar Independent Syrian Church and its Place in the Story of the St Thomas Christians of South India, Piscataway, NJ, Gorgias Press, 2009, p.582; The Glastonbury Review, vol. XXII, no. 114, (November 2006), p. 299; Free Church of England Year Book, 2006-2007.
  10. ^ Year Books 2007-2013.
  11. ^ "Northern Diocese".
  12. ^ "St George".
  13. ^ "Holy Trinity Oswaldtwistle".
  14. ^ "St Augustine's church Douglas, IOM".
  15. ^ "Impact Community Church Oldham". Impact Church.
  16. ^ Release, Press (13 April 2021). "A Statement concerning St Stephen's Church, Middlesbrough from the Free Church of England". Anglican Ink © 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  17. ^ "Southern Diocese".
  18. ^ "St Jude's Church, Balham". St Jude’s Church, Balham.
  19. ^ "St Andrew's Church".
  20. ^ "St Jude's Church, Chuckery".
  21. ^ "St Francis Church Shoreham By Sea".
  22. ^ "St Paul's". Community.
  23. ^ Elleray, D. Robert (2004). Sussex Places of Worship. Worthing: Optimus Books. p. 19. ISBN 0-9533132-7-1.
  24. ^ "Parish quits FCE over Fenwick scandal". Anglican Ink © 2021. 5 May 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  25. ^ "FCE Bishops resigns over Fenwick affair". Anglican Ink. 6 May 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  26. ^ "London congregation joins alternative Anglican denomination, questions C of E's 'theological trajectory'". Premier Christian Radio. 25 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  27. ^ "St Peter FCE Inaugural Service". The Free Church of England. 28 March 2018. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  28. ^ "Igreja Anglicana Reformada do Brasil". 20 June 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  29. ^ "South American diocese withdraws from the FCE". Anglican Ink. 7 May 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  30. ^ "Free Church of England Orders recognised". Archived from the original on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  31. ^ Gledhill, Ruth (28 January 2013). "Church of England recognises 'free' order that is against women bishops". The Times. London.
  32. ^ "Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967". Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  33. ^ "". Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  34. ^ Mark Dyer et al. (eds.), The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, Harrisburg, PA, Morehouse Publishing, 1999, p.228.
  35. ^ "Canons 7th Edition". Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  36. ^ "Den nordisk-katolske kirke » for den udelte kirkes tro". 29 August 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  37. ^ "About Gafcon GB & Europe".

External links