One of the privileges I’ve had since the ‘compelled to resist’ meeting has been connecting with conservative evangelical Anglicans in London and the UK. These connections have crossed generations from the new young leader of Re:New and other emerging leaders, to leaders of some of the largest churches in England in their late 50s and 60s, to an older generation of statesmen.

Within the CoE conservative evangelicals have often been sidelined, mocked and marginalised at just a turn in history when charismatics who had previously experienced all of the above from both the establishment and some conservatives were being preferred and promoted en masse and ultimately given the keys to the kingdom (Queen Anne’s Bounty anyway) under the Strategic Development Fund bidding process (SDF) that has funded much of the Church Revitalisation Trust synonymous with the HTB Church Network, the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication and planting ministry in many New Wine churches (among others).

I’ve written extensively in this blog about what I see as a tragic gap that has opened up between charismatic and conservative evangelicals over the last 40 years, showing e.g. how so much of HTB has been built on the legacy of John Stott, through the ministry of John Collins and others. But what I haven’t had until very recently is much firsthand encounters and interaction with leaders within the conservative evangelical Anglican world. The siloing has been nearly complete over the past decades, and we’ve somehow reached a point where never the two may meet.

Here I am suddenly sharing travel, accommodation, mealtimes, and conference experience, with people who have only been names to me in the past. On the bus Rico Tice tells me he’s been reading my blog, Charlie Skrine then tells me he’d sent it to David Bebbington (church historian I draw from) and we share an enjoyable evening together, Vaughan Roberts continues to encourage, Jonny Jukes joins me for breakfast and kindly listens to my academic pretensions, William Taylor wants to meet up for a meal because he so enjoyed John McGingley’s company at the last Gafcon, Matt Fuller and I take a long walk, Rod Thomas reaches out, Richard Coekin offers wise advice and that’s just a few of the heartwarming encounters, meal conversations and encouragements that have sprung up from sharing the same space together.

There have been a few comedy moments. Tweetable moments like someone calling out ‘I love blasphemy’ during a discussion on wording for the Gafcon statement, watching leaders engage/not engage with worship that is more like a livelier version of New Wine / HTB Focus than a Reform conference, and the moment on stage when Rico Tice from Christianity Explored was explaining his passion for the gospel and Jenny Noyes next to him (who is a key missioner for the Anglican Church in North America) launched into a 4 minute monologue praising the HTB Alpha Course as the great gift of the Church of England for Anglicans and telling how she’d coming to saving faith in London attending the Holy Spirit weekend with its talks on how to be filled with the Spirit. Rico was graciously quiet.

We’ve talked movingly and honestly on things that can divide us. Intriguingly a significant number I’ve spoken to have had deep charismatic experiences/backgrounds I’d never have known about. I’ve heard several tell me that the beginning of their journey to Christ was a charismatic church used by God as a trigger to realise they were lacking a depth of encounter with God and that led to a full conversion. Some, like me, have even been through churches like newfrontiers on their journey into Anglicanism. Many can relate to missionary stories we share of dramatic divine interventions (miracles) and to a sense of God speaking to them personally (sometimes using different language). As many have commented before a substantial part of the difference between those who land in open charismatic churches and conservative churches appears to be temperamental/personality based preference rather than theological.

The way ahead remain unclear, but we’ve built bridges that I think could transcend egalitarian/complementarian divides. There’s a genuine hunger for and openness to a CoE solution that would incorporate women and men of all three orders of ministry within a combined structure / province, a massive appreciation for Bishops like Jill Duff and for almost all a sense that complementarianian is not a core identity, even when it is a clear conviction. An informal structure of coexistence and mutually ministry seems tantalisingly possible as I speak to Rod Thomas and Ron Munro, and it just makes you wonder what the CoE working group could come up with in terms of structural solutions if Andrew Watson and others can dream big enough dreams for the church. Could this be when we unite? I certainly hope so, and as we come closer could it not be that the Lord will use that like steel on steel?

James Wong Archbishop of the Indian Ocean spoke on Day 3 morning. He admonished us to:

“Dare to take some risks and God will provide. Give more and God will replenish you, Love more freely and God will energise you. Say more often ‘I can do’ and God will amaze you.”

That could be a great word for orthodox evangelicals of all backgrounds within the CoE.

Ministry time with Peter Jensen – a bit different to the charismatic approach. More like a somber mini sermon and dowdy prayer – yet in conversations afterwards I realised others had engaged with it deeply and had the sort of encounter / challenge with and from God I’d have associated with a Sandy Millar ministry time – so more my problem than his!
The Holy Spirit weekend and Alpha celebrated again at Gafcon