Nicknamed a ‘shadow synod’, it marked a new form of partnership between Anglican churches in Kent and Sussex.
The clergy and lay leaders (PCCs) met at that first meeting to pray and ponder whether widespread denial of the gospel in our denomination meant that we needed to partner together in fresh ways.
Gavin Ashenden gave a prescient analysis of the Church of England’s failure to discharge its mission to England. After praying, we agreed to keep meeting as a ‘synod’ of churches. Synods used to be informal gatherings of churches to resolve common pressing problems. Our new synod would be like that. Rochester Diocese accepted that our new synod was one of many legitimate ways Anglican churches can support one another. Their press statement noted: ‘Many like-minded parishes join together in a range of organisations, meetings and assemblies to share mutual support and debate.’
Lay people fully involved
Churches have joined the synod by means of PCCs passing a motion: ‘As a PCC that is determined to uphold the Jerusalem Statement we commit to an Anglican synod of churches whose PCCs have likewise resolved to uphold the Jerusalem Statement. As an Anglican synod we will send representatives to confer, pray and assist PCCs in said synod as needful. We will seek to ensure our mutual support is in deed as well as word, and therefore enthusiastic, missional, financial and prayerful.’
By having churches join the synod via PCC resolutions, we ensure that lay people are fully involved in decisions and leadership. Bitter experience has shown that organisations almost exclusively led by Anglican clergy become talking-shops! Our churches see the Jerusalem Declaration as a valuable rallying point. Some churches have additional doctrinal commitments. In addition to the main synod meetings – attended by all our PCCs, there are occasional Clergy Chapters. These offer fellowship and training to clergy who are happy to sign a statement similar to the PCC motion.
Until churches talk about money, they are merely talking. Our partnership includes discussing how we use our money. Many lay people are fed up with their sacrificial giving being used to pay for the staff and buildings of a denomination which so openly embraces the spirit of the age. They long to see resources used to plant desperately-needed orthodox churches. So our synod tasked a team to establish the Rochester Good Stewards Trust. This charity enables our churches to allocate finances to mission in line with the Jerusalem Declaration.
Central to our mission is planting orthodox Anglican churches that will spread the gospel. A taskforce drawn from churches in our synod has facilitated our churches to advance plans for a number of plants. Some will hopefully be within the Church of England, others outside it. Our synod has had guests speaking at it to help envision us. Lee McMunn (Mission Director for AMiE) shared a vision for Anglican plants outside the CofE. Bishop Paul Hunt (Free Church of England) shared how his denomination can use their structures and experience to support new plants. The process of meeting together has not only energised us to plant, it has led to our churches helping each other in unexpected ways – sharing information, seeking buildings for each other, offering volunteers, co-ordinating ventures and so on.
Guarding the faith
Our church planting occurs against the backdrop of the CofE’s widespread toleration and commendation of false teachers. Faithful churches are called to guard the faith by distancing themselves from – even breaking fellowship with – false teachers. Cof E structures for enabling this aspect of faithful ministry have broken down. As we spend time sharing resources, plans and people we are seeing the Spirit grant remarkable unity in seeking effective steps to guard our churches.
Progress in partnership between our churches over the past year has been remarkable. Many of the encouraging stories and plans will be celebrated at our next synod meeting – when Bishop Rod Thomas will share how he might help with some of our plans. We are finding that the gospel is advanced when churches partner together in deeper ways than we have previously. Please pray for us and others seeking to emulate our efforts.
Revd Dr Peter Sanlon is convener of the Anglican Partnership Synod and vicar of St Mark’s Church, Tunbridge Wells.