Knowing where you are and where you are going is often vital. Three years ago I retired from parochial ministry and moved to south Devon, close to Dartmoor. Parts of the moor can be quite featureless and not the easiest place for navigating; so I bought myself a walkers’ GPS, and now with a glance at its illuminated screen I can see precisely where I am and where I am going.
The question I want to raise in this article is where are we as Church of England evangelicals, and where are we going? And as an aspect of that, where is Fulcrum, and where is it going?
Let me begin by looking back. I was ordained in 1971. It was still the period when evangelicals often felt pressurised and excluded, and so reacted with a very critical approach to all who were seen as “liberal” or “catholic”. However, it was also the post-Keele period, when evangelicals had declared their intention of staying in the C of E and working as part of it. Consequently, it was an era too when evangelicals were beginning to emerge much more in the C of E, with more evangelical bishops, with a vast amount of Gospel-centred work going on in many fields, led by John Stott and others. It was the era when Eclectics was a strong force linking younger evangelical clergy, and allowing them to think and speak with a sense of freedom. There was the beginning of a consciousness that the Gospel was wider than just preaching for conversion. Anglican evangelical children’s and youth work was strong, coordinated by CYPECS (CYFA, Pathfinders, Explorers, Climbers and Scramblers, the highly energetic youth arm of CPAS). It was an era too when drastic division over charismatic gifts was avoided through such things as the “Gospel and Spirit” document.
Today I suspect we are both stronger and weaker than we were then. Stronger because we play a wider role in the C of E with more senior clergy and diocesan and cathedral staff, and now that we are no longer restricted to “sound” churches. (I remember when CPAS used to publish a list, supposedly a prayer list, but effectively a reference list, of such churches). Stronger too in that evangelical writers and speakers are now more recognised in the wider C of E than they once were. But weaker in that we are more disparate, with some of our evangelical organisations carrying less weight - e.g. while CPAS still does some brilliant work, its youth department has gone, apart from the Ventures, and I suspect it no longer has quite the same kudos in evangelical circles that it once had – and with deeply entrenched differences of opinion on the ordination/consecration of women and on same-sex relationships.
One aspect of the changes is that of the big evangelical Anglican gatherings. The Keele NEAC (National Anglican Evangelical Congress, held in 1967) and Nottingham (1977) were major formative events. Caister (1988) (where the C stood for Celebration, not Congress) much less so. Then came Blackpool in 2003, at which Fulcrum was launched, the story of which can be found on the “Founding of Fulcrum” page on the Fulcrum website. Clearly over these decades we can see change in these gatherings, and some would say decline, although others might argue that the task of such big specifically evangelical Anglican gatherings is done, and has been replaced to some degree by such interdenominational events as New Wine and Spring Harvest. The last NEAC (2008) was the disastrous one-day event held at All Souls, Langham Place, which served only to highlight our divisions and how bad we can be at allowing for open and honest discussion of the issues.
CEEC, (Church of England Evangelical Council) the organisation behind NEAC, appears frankly to be a lame, if not quite a dead duck, with a weakened and perhaps unbalanced electoral basis and a forever out-of-date website. And when did we last hear of AEA (Anglican Evangelical Assembly)? I can find no reference later than 2005.
Of course this may be a very good thing and may be what should happen. When I put sugar in my coffee there is no point leaving it as a sludge at the bottom of the cup; it needs to be stirred in and dispersed throughout the coffee. Is that what is happening? Certainly, many evangelicals, lay and ordained, are happily dispersed around churches that do not wave an evangelical flag, (and that is my situation).
On the other hand, what is happening may be less good and may lead to us being so diluted as not to have much effect, or lead us to a lack of any sense of direction.
And then of course there are our divisions, particularly over women’s ordination/consecration and over same-sex relations. Much of the ground is so well worked over that it needs no further comment here, other than the obvious point that such deep-seated divisions make it much more difficult to see where we are going and to have any unified sense of direction.
And where is Fulcrum in all this? Its strap line is “renewing the evangelical centre”, but I think we have to ask: to what degree is it succeeding in this? Certainly, its existence declares strongly that open evangelicals are truly part of the evangelical section of the C of E, and it balances conservative groups such as Anglican Mainstream. On its website (and many thanks to all who have worked to produce the new version of the site) there is a steady flow of interesting articles of various sorts, and an extremely useful news service, for which I am personally very grateful, (although there is little there that could not have been compiled by a non-evangelical). The forum is useful, but has had a very limited number of contributors, and too often has gone round in circles, with little obvious outcome of setting a sense of direction. I assume the leadership team meets every now and then, but I for one am not aware of the outcome of these meetings – perhaps there is scope for better communication here, maybe with an annual report to Fulcrum members. And of course with the demise of the annual conference the opportunity for face-to-face meeting is lessened. (This demise may of course have been inevitable, but nevertheless does have negative consequences). So, while very much valuing Fulcrum, I do find myself questioning just how effective it is.
I have tried in this article to raise what I see as important, (and perhaps provocative), questions. It would be good to have comment from other Fulcrum members, and particularly from our leadership team with its new membership, as to where they see Fulcrum and the wider evangelical constituency going in the coming years.