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.jpg
AssociationsReformed Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America
RegionEngland, France, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela
Separated fromChurch of England
Membersc. 2,300[1]

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.

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 mediaeval Roman Catholic dogmas and practices into the Established Church. The first congregation was formed by the Revd. James Shore at 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. The Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England mentioned later does not support the FCE support of the term Evangelical Catholic and what they term it to mean.[6] 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 2003 ten parishes broke away and founded their own Free Church of England Evangelical Connexion.[7]

The Evangelical Connexion saw itself as the true FCE and refuted the charge that it had left the FCE. However, since the Evangelical Connexion separated from the FCE three congregations have returned to the FCE, Exeter, Middlesbrough and Oswaldtwistle.

There was an offer in 2019 to hold talks between the two groups to come to an understanding but the offer was not taken up on by FCE. The two major differences between the two groups that would need addressing before any future re-unification could take place are the FCE support of the term Evangelical Catholic and what they term it to mean and the FCE belief in Apostolic Succession of Bishops contrary to the FCE Principles that state everyone in Church is equal including the Church Officers and leaders.[6]


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 Indian Orthodox bishops taking part on occasion.[8]

The presiding bishop is chosen annually by convocation and has the title "Bishop Primus". The Evangelical Connexion elects a Co-Ordinator at Convocation but the hierarchical structure of FCE is rejected by the Connexion, the Co-Ordinator is just another member of Church, no higher or lower than anyone else[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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 twenty churches in England, divided between the two dioceses. The Northern Diocese bishop is John Fenwick, while the Southern Diocese bishop is Paul Hunt. The twenty UK churches are located as follows:

Holy Trinity Church Free Church of England, Oswaldtwistle

Northern Diocese and Evangelical ConnexionEdit

Diocesan website: [4]


  • –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 [5] Kenneth Howles
St Stephen, Middlesbrough Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire 1908 Jonatas Bragatto Worshipping in John Paul II Centre [12]
Emmanuel, Morecambe Morecambe, Lancashire 1886 [6] Julian Mann
St. Pauls Church, Fleetwood Fleetwood, Lancashire 1907 [7] Virgil Tountas Evangelical Connexion Church
Christ Church Leeds, Yorkshire [8] Grahame Wray Evangelical Connexion Church
Christ Church, Tu Brook Liverpool, Merseyside 1870 [9] Arthur Williams Evangelical Connexion church
Holy Trinity, Oswaldtwistle Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire 1870 [10] Anthony Roberts
St David, Preston Preston, Lancashire 1939 Vacant Previously an unaffiliated Anglican church
St John with Trinity, Tottington Tottington, Greater Manchester 1853 [11] John Fenwick, Arthur Kay
Christ Church, Liscard Liscard, Merseyside 1880 [12] Trevor Hutchinson
Impact Community Church Hollinwood, Greater Manchester [13] Elijah Boswell Associate church
Emmanuel Church Workington, Cumbria [14] Tony Pietersen Evangelical Connexion church

Southern Diocese and Evangelical ConnexionEdit

Diocesan website:[15]


  • 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 [16] Mark Gretason
St Andrew, Bentley Bentley, West Midlands 1943 [17] Paul Hunt
St Jude, Chuckery Walsall, West Midlands 1909 [18] joined FCE 1947
Emmanuel, Birmingham Saltley, West Midlands 1903 Daniel Choe
Christ Church, Broadstairs Broadstairs, Kent 1904 Vacant
Christ Church, Exeter Exeter, Devon 1844 John Eustice
Christ Church, Exmouth Exmouth, Devon 1896 Josep Rosello
Christ Church, Leigh on Sea Leigh on Sea, Essex [19] Evangelical Connexion church James Lee Potter
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 [20] Gerald Kirsch
Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent 2016 [21] Peter Sanlon
St Peter, Croydon Croydon, London 2018 Jabson Watson
Christ Church Balham[13] Balham, London 2002 [22] Andy Palmer joined FCE 2019

South American DioceseEdit

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),[14] 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 Brazil.

    • Reformed Anglican Community in Salvador (Salvador/Bahia)


Overseas churchesEdit

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 and France (under the oversight of Paul Hunt, Bishop of the Southern Diocese), and also in Australia, where in 2016 a new congregation was established in Melbourne.

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

Recognition of OrdersEdit

In January 2013 it was announced that the Church of England had recognised the Orders of the Free Church of England.[15] 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."[16]

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.[17] In recent years 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[18] 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.[19] It is a Designated Church under the Church of England's Ecumenical Relations Measure 1988.[20] 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.[21] Recently 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 realignmentEdit

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.[22] 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. 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.

Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of EnglandEdit

Logo of the Evangelical Connexxion of the Free Church of England, which split off from the Free Church of England in 2003.

The Free Church of England Declaration of Principles recognises the essential unity of all who by a like faith are united to one Divine and common Head of the Church (Jesus Christ) and requires the FCE to maintain communion with all other Christian churches. However, Free Church of England Bishops Barry Shucksmith and Arthur Bentley Taylor believed this should not go as far as participation in what they termed as unbiblical ecumenical dialogues of the Free Church of England, and resigned as Bishops of the Free Church of England in 2003 in protest at the directions that the church was taking. Ten congregations followed them and formed the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England, a name derived from an earlier phase of the Free Church of England's history when it grew out of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion.[23]

According to the FCE:

The Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England is a small Christian body that came into being in 2003 as a result of fundamental theological disagreements within the Free Church of England with particular reference to the very nature of the church and specifically the authority and hence function of those chosen to lead the church. The Connexion group regard these views, based more on church tradition than the bible, to in fact be a contradiction of the bible to which the FCE is supposed to hold as its sole basis of authority.[24]

Since the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England separated from the Free Church of England, three congregations at Exeter, Middlesbrough and Oswaldtwistle have returned. Hollinwood in Oldham has closed (but reopened as an Associate Congregation of the Free Church of England) and two at Farnham (an associate congregation of the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England) and Teddington have become independent. This leaves the Evangelical Connexion with five churches at Fleetwood, Leigh on Sea, Leeds, Liverpool Tu Brook and Workington. In 2012 in absence of a Bishop both Barry Shucksmith and Arthur Bentley Taylor had retired the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England appointed a Co-Ordinator.[clarification needed] In 2019 this is the Reverend Grahame Wray of the Leeds Church. In 2018 Trevor Jordan left the Free Church of England Group and joined the Connexion Group as General Secretary.[24]


  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. ^ a b
  7. ^ [1] Archived November 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Template:Year Book 2017-2018
  11. ^ Year Books 2007-2013.
  12. ^ Brown, Mike (2017-10-11). "Bulldozers move in to demolish 106-year-old Middlesbrough church". gazettelive. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  13. ^ Premier (2019-01-25). "London congregation joins alternative Anglican denomination, questions C of E's 'theological trajectory'". Premier Christian Radio. Retrieved 2019-01-25.
  14. ^ "Igreja Anglicana Reformada do Brasil". 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ Gledhill, Ruth (January 28, 2013). "Church of England recognises 'free' order that is against women bishops". The Times. London.
  17. ^ "Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967". Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  18. ^ "". Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  19. ^ Mark Dyer et al. (eds.), The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, Harrisburg, PA, Morehouse Publishing, 1999, p.228.
  20. ^ "Canons 7th Edition". Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  21. ^ "Den nordisk-katolske kirke » for den udelte kirkes tro". 2015-08-29. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  22. ^ [3]
  23. ^ Declaration of principles
  24. ^ a b

External linksEdit