Bruce Robison (yes, that one) reminds us that it isn’t only the Methodists with whom Anglicans in some places have been moving towards agreement (see previous post below). The possibility of rapprochement with the United Reformed Church (consisting of most of England’s Presbyterians and Congregationalists) is also on the agenda of Church of England’s upcoming synod.

The United Reformed Church are the descendants of the Evangelicals who would not go along with the stricter standards of conformity imposed upon them by the Church of England in 1662, and who left the church rather than conform. There seemed to be a lot of them at the time; about a thousand clergy found themselves without ministry unless they gathered a church of their own, although I don’t think they gathered a thousand such churches, and their numbers relative to the population have steadily declined since. Today there are about 1500 local URC churches, including those in Scotland and Wales, and about 700 clergy.

If the Synod approves—or rather ‘takes note’ of—this report, there will be a joint service for the United Reformed Church and the Church of England at Westminster Abbey next February. “The service should contain an expression of penitence for our part in perpetuating the divisions of the past, a desire for the healing of memories and an act of commitment to work more closely together in the future. In the new climate created by the joint act of reconciliation and commitment, further joint work should be undertaken on certain topics, mainly concerning ministry and authority.”

What is the Anglican part in perpetuating these divisions of the past? The insistence that there is no valid ordination without a bishop, and that in the worship of the Church that which is not forbidden is compulsory. ‘Ministry and authority’ with a vengeance, it seemed in 1662. Anglican Evangelicals have generally sympathised with the non-conformists on these matters, although they didn’t agree they were issues worth breaking fellowship over. Given the strength of Evangelicals in today’s C of E, it’s hard to imagine the process not beginning next February; bishops, even Evangelical bishops, being what they are, it’s less clear that there will be speedy progress. But Richard Baxter would be pleased.