Why we left the Church of England

On Sunday 1 October 2023, Bishop Andy Lines inaugurated Wellfield Church, Leyland, Lancashire, into the Anglican Convocation in Europe and instituted Mark Simpson as Rector.

Photo: Mark Simpson handed a Bible as a symbol of his pastoral office by Bishop Andy Lines

Mark Simpson reflects on their journey out of the Church of England and into ACE:

When people use to ask me, ‘Why are you still in the CofE when (a) you have little to do with it; and (b) you don’t like where it’s going?’, my answer used to be the standard evangelical one: It’s a good boat to fish from, and the revisionists are the cuckoos in the nest, not us. The foundational teaching of the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles is excellent, even if many of the leaders don’t seem to believe it, follow it or teach it.

I still think that’s right. However, it’s also quite convenient to take a view that means you don’t have to change anything. February 2023 was a turning point.

The more I (and church members) watched of that dreadful General Synod, the more we were utterly disgusted. There was the total ignorance of “the Scriptures and the power of God” that many of our leaders displayed; there was the way the Archbishop of York patronised those who appealed to Truth; it was even just that these basic issues were open for debate at that level. I’d taken part in ‘Shared Conversations’ several years ago; I know how disingenuous church leaders can be. But now here they were, not sworn to confidentiality, but in public.

When I said to people in church, for the first time, “I think we have to leave, don’t we?”, they all said yes. I’m not saying that choosing to stay in the CofE is a sin; but actually deciding, after all this time, to leave had the same feeling of repenting of a long-held sin. It felt right.

There were many parts of scripture that drove the conviction to leave. One in particular was Hebrews 13:13, to first-century Jewish Christians who were squeezed out of the life of the synagogue - “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” It must have been hard for them. Maybe, like us, they said, ‘They’re the cuckoos in the nest - this is our heritage!’ Maybe it was hard to hear the writer effectively saying, ‘Let them have it all - the buildings, the infrastructure, the familiarity and stability.’ But this is the way of Jesus and his kingdom.

In many ways it was easy for Wellfield Church to leave. We didn’t have to leave buildings, or church members or a vicarage behind. But really, that’s largely because we’d planned it that way for many years. We’d kept our finances separate from the diocese, bought our own house, got our church building owned in Trust. When the time came to act on our convictions, we were ready.

When we were looking for somewhere else to belong, we were glad to discover ACE. We’re so pleased to be able to stand clearly with the real men of God who lead GAFCON. The covid years showed us that the Conservative Evangelical world that we are a part of is really not the be-all-and-end-all, in terms of having courage and battle-readiness in a hostile world. People in ACE may not all agree on everything, but do agree on the gospel and the pressing issues of our generation, and seek to trust and obey our Lord. That’s the fellowship we were looking for. It might be small, young and fragile; but that’s our story as a church too. And I think it’s the story of the true church down the ages, and what Jesus taught us to expect.