Free Church of England

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

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.[3]

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 congregations were formed in 1844.

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".[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.[7]

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 retireds) and around 900 members of the FCE in England.[8]

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.[9] 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[edit]

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–: 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 Demolished 2017[10]
Emmanuel, Morecambe Morecambe, Lancashire 1886 [6] Vacant
Holy Trinity, Oswaldtwistle Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire 1870 [7] Anthony Roberts
St David, Preston Preston, Lancashire 1939 Vacant Previously an unaffiliated Anglican church
St John with Trinity, Tottington Tottington, Greater Manchester 1853 [8] John Fenwick
Christ Church, Liscard Liscard, Merseyside 1880 [9] Vacant
Impact Community Church Hollinwood, Greater Manchester [10] Elijah Boswell Associate church

Southern Diocese[edit]

Diocesan website:[11]


  • 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–: Paul Hunt


Church Location Founded Link Minister Notes
St Jude, Balham Balham, London 1887 [12] Mark Gretason
St Andrew, Bentley Bentley, West Midlands 1943 [13] Paul Hunt
St Jude, Chuckery Walsall, West Midlands 1909 [14] joined FCE 1947
Emmanuel, Birmingham Saltley, West Midlands 1903 Daniel Choe
Christ Church, Broadstairs Broadstairs, Kent 1904 Robert Leone
Christ Church, Exeter Exeter, Devon 1844 John Eustice
Christ Church, Exmouth Exmouth, Devon 1896 Vacant
Christ Church, Harlesden Harlesden, London 1886 Robert Wilson
Christ Church, Willesborough Willesborough, Ashford, Kent 1874 Vacant
St Francis, Shoreham-by-Sea Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex 2012 [15] Gerald Kirsch
Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent 2016 [16] Peter Sanlon

South American Diocese[edit]

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),[11] 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.

Overseas churches[edit]

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.

Recognition of Orders[edit]

In January 2013 it was announced that the Church of England had recognised the Orders of the Free Church of England.[12] 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."[13]

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.[14] In recent years FCE bishops have licensed clergy of the Church of England to offiate 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[15] 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.[16] It is a Designated Church under the Church of England's Ecumenical Relations Measure 1988.[17] 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.[18] 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 realignment[edit]

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. 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.[19] 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.


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

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