Julian Mann, who has recently joined the FCE after leaving the Church of England, was interviewed by Divid Virtue for VirtueOnline:
Julian, you started training for ordination in the Church of England in 1993 at Oak Hill College in north London and then you were ordained in 1996 in Chester Diocese. What was it that attracted you about ordained ministry in the Church of England at the time?
In the early ‘90s when I was in my mid-20s, my wife and I were attending a lively Anglican evangelical church in Sevenoaks, St Nicholas, whilst I was working as a reporter for a retail trade paper in Kent. I was thinking about the best scenario in journalism – I had ambitions to be a political reporter – but when I thought about going into full-time gospel ministry I wanted that more.
I bought the line then that the Church of England was ‘the best boat to fish from’. I saw ministers I respected being really fruitful for Christ in the CofE, so it seemed natural for me to go to the same denomination as my evangelical leaders.
Also, the biblically-faithful legacy of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion was and still is the official doctrine of the CofE, and so an evangelical could join it with spiritual integrity.
You were minister of the CofE Parish Church of the Ascension at Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, for 19 years. But in November you will be licensed into the Free Church of England and serve at Emmanuel, Morecambe in Lancashire. What was it that convinced you that you couldn’t remain any longer in the CofE and that another denomination would be a more fitting home?
There wasn’t one last straw as such but a number of things coming together. One was a motion passed by the Church of England governing body, the General Synod, in July 2017 calling for a Government ban on conversion therapy. The abuse or coercion of same-sex attracted people is indefensible but that is a very different thing from allowing adults with unwanted same-sex attraction to seek out professional help.
I felt that the Synod grossly crossed the line in deliberately calling upon the Government to institute such a ban, rather than defend the right of people to choose to receive help to form biblical heterosexual relationships.
If this push for a ban were in isolation, it might perhaps not have been grounds on its own to seek out a new denomination. However, there have for some time been warning signs in other areas too and it seems likely that the Synod will, after the next elections in 2020, authorise services of same-sex blessing in the CofE and change the CofE’s Marriage Canon to allow homosexual weddings in local churches.
Woody Allen’s joke about death comes to my mind: ‘I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens’ – speaking as one of those ‘miserable offenders’ in the Prayer Book confession I don’t want to be there when the CofE decides to bury the traditional Christian sexual ethic.
What is it that appeals to you about the Free Church of England?
While much smaller than the Church of England, it is a biblically orthodox Anglican denomination and this ultimately is far more important than size or status. I am thankful to God for the support of John Fenwick, the Bishop of the FCE northern diocese, over the change. Specifically, I am looking forward to ministering in Morecambe and furthering Christ’s ministry at Emmanuel with gospel partners in the town without always having to worry about what is happening elsewhere in my denomination.
Do you think more evangelicals will follow you into the Free Church of England?
I can’t speak for other evangelicals but I would think it likely given the CofE’s direction of travel. Founded in the mid-19th Century, the FCE is an experienced Anglican denomination in England whose leadership is genuinely committed to the authority of the Scriptures and to proclaiming the true biblical gospel of eternal salvation from sin and death through faith in the real Jesus Christ. It has good links with the biblically orthodox GAFCON movement in the Anglican Communion worldwide. So, in the Lord’s goodness it has what it takes to be a sea-worthy missionary vessel for Anglican evangelicals wanting to leave the CofE.
After ministering in Oughtibridge for so long, it must come with some sadness to say goodbye?
It is sad to be leaving the church family at Oughtibridge but it is great news that the Bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox, is committed to the plan for an evangelical minister from Christ Church Fulwood in the south-west of the city to bring a group of committed Christians with him to the Ascension as a church graft. My wife and I are excited about the adventure, the Lord willing, in Morecambe. We are convinced that one soul saved for eternity in a church we have conviction in is worth the move. May God’s will be done and Christ be glorified.