In his article ‘Finding a Way Through’ published on the ViaMedia.News website on 1 March Charlie Bell writes as follows about the request made by CEEC and the wider Alliance movement for ‘legally secure structural provision’ for conservatives in the Church of England who cannot in good conscience accept same-sex marriages, same-sex blessings, or the ordination of those in sexually active same-sex relationships:

‘Simply shouting ‘legally secure structural provision’ doesn’t, frankly, do the trick, and is getting tiresome. For many – me included – these are questions not just about these prayers [the ‘Prayers of Love and Faith’], but about a fundamental threat to our ecclesiology. Casting our ecclesiology aside and creating a ‘pure’ church within a church in order to appease those who will never really be appeased is not a good strategy. Suggesting that we can remain in any serious way ‘one church’ whilst having ‘legally secure structural provision’ is a demonstrable nonsense.

So – let’s sit down and work out how we can move forwards. If you are a reasonable conservative who opposes these prayers on theological grounds, we can and want to work with you to enable you to flourish in the same church as us. We want to ensure you have pastoral provision that allows you to feel valued and loved – pastoral provision which, incidentally, has been cruelly withheld from so many LGBTQIA people for years. You do not have to buy into the lie that structural provision, with bishops out of communion with one another, special ordinations, confirmations, theological colleges, pseudo-provinces, and the rest of it, is the only answer – it isn’t, and it’s not going to happen. It just isn’t. We want you to feel supported, and we want to build each other up in the faith – and we can make this happen if we’re willing to put our minds to it, and ignore the extremes.’

I want to make a threefold response to what Bell says in these two paragraphs.

First, creating a new provincial structure for the Church of England to provide for the differing positions of conservatives and liberals is not a ‘fundamental threat’ to the Church of England’s ecclesiology.

What CEEC is asking for is internal differentiation within the Church of England by means of a re-configuration of the Church’s current provincial system. This could take the form of a new province for conservatives alongside Canterbury and York, a new province for liberals alongside Canterbury and York or a re-working of the two existing provinces to cover the whole country with conservatives in Canterbury and liberals in York. [1]

The key point to note about this proposal is that it is in line with the existing ecclesiology of the Church of England. The Church of England has historically consisted, and continues to consist, as a combination  of two separate provinces, each their own Archbishop (both of whom have metropolitical authority within their own province and neither of whom is subject to the other), and each having its own provincial synodical structure consisting of a provincial Convocation made up of the two Houses of Bishops and Clergy, and an attendant House of Laity.  A meeting of the General Synod is simply a joint meeting of these two provincial synods, and the two Convocations retain the power both to veto legislation proposed in the General Synod and to make provision for matters relating to their province (see Canon H.1 and Article 7 of the Constitution of General Synod).

Adding another province into the mix, or reconfiguring the two existing provinces, would not alter this ecclesiological structure in any fundamental way.[2] What it would mean is that the two (or three)  provinces of the Church of England could continue to meet together in General Synod to debate and legislate on matters of common concern, while their provincial synods could legislate to either maintain or change the Church of England’s current teaching and practice with regard to marriage and human sexuality, thus allowing both conservatives and liberals to have what they are looking for  within their own province or provinces.

Each province would hold that the other province or provinces is (or are) part of the Catholic Church and the Church of England, and there would be transferability of ministry without re-ordination between them subject to a minister being prepared to accept the doctrine and discipline of the province to which he or she was transferring.

The Church of England could thus stay together, but in a way which respected the conscientious convictions of both sides and would prevent the Church of England breaking apart entirely.

This approach would also give long term stability because General Synod would not be able to overrule the approach to marriage and sexuality taken by the separate provincial synods (since as at present convocations would be able to exercise a veto) and each province could set its own policy with regard to the future selection, training and appointment of clergy.

Contrary to what Bell claims this proposal is not ‘demonstrable nonsense’ since it would enable the Church of England to remain one church on exactly the same terms that it is one church today.

Secondly, Bell assures conservatives that liberals like himself ‘want pastoral provision that allows you to feel valued and loved.’  However, conservatives have made clear that the pastoral provision that would make them feel ‘valued and loved’ in accordance with their theological convictions are precisely the things which Bell says they cannot  have, namely, their own provincial structure, their own bishops from whom they would receive confirmation and ordination and licensing, and their own theological education institutions in which students  would be trained for ministry on the basis of historic Anglican teaching (including historic Anglican teaching with regard to marriage and sexual ethics). This means that what Bell offers with one hand he takes away with the other. He says that wants to make conservatives valued and loved, but he wants to prohibit the course of action that would make that a reality.

Thirdly, Bell declares concerning what conservatives have said they need: ‘it’s not going to happen. It just isn’t.’  My response is ‘Why not?’ All that will stop it happening is people like Bell being unwilling to allow it to happen and I really cannot see why they would wish to do so. The conservatives’ proposal is, as I have said, in line with the existing ecclesiology of the Church of England and it would result in both sides of the current disagreement in the Church of England getting what they want. So, what is the problem?

About the author

Dr Martin Davie is a lay Anglican theologian who was for 13 years theological consultant to the Church of England’s House of Bishops and theological secretary to its Council for Christian Unity. He is currently theological consultant to the Church of England Evangelical Council, a fellow of the Latimer Trust and the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, and Assistant Lecturer in Christian Doctrine at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford​

See the full article, plus more of Martin’s posts here.

Charlie Bell’s article can be viewed here.

[1] See CEEC Visibly Different at and the CEEC video ‘We love the Church of England’.

[2] Those who know their  church history may be aware that between 787 and 796 the Church of England consisted of three  Provinces,  since Lichfield was an archdiocese, and that the United Church ofEngland and Ireland which existed from 1800-1871 originally consisted of six provinces, Canterbury,York, Armagh, Dublin, Cashel  and  Tuam. The pattern of two provinces is therefore not cast in stone. Ithas been different in the past and could  be different again.