Vicar's letter for August Fowey News

Dear Friends

Many things in life are a matter of preference and taste. And that is both welcome and fine when it comes to clothes or music or football teams or art. But such an approach falls apart when it comes to many other facets of life. We don’t want our doctors or airline pilots or bank managers to be relativist about medicines or maps or money. It simply doesn’t work and we can’t live like that.

Many assume that the God-business is simply a matter of taste, but the Bible consistently and unmistakably claims that truth is not a matter of opinion or preference or choice. God has revealed himself clearly, unmistakably, uniquely and authoritatively in Jesus Christ and those who claim to be his followers are to be faithful to his teaching. Yes, we must strive to understand it more deeply and certainly we need to work harder at living it out consistently. But I believe Jesus says what he means and means what he says. So my job as a minister is not like a chef, concocting or inventing the meal, but more like a waiter, serving up what the chef has already provided. I am not at liberty to rearrange the plate or add ingredients because of fashion or remove elements because someone somewhere thinks they’re challenging or unpalatable.

The General Synod and the House of Bishops of the Church of England currently seem less concerned to stick with the Bible than they are to appear ‘relevant’ by changing the message to suit our increasingly secular culture. In particular the House of Bishops recently issued guidelines about using Baptism liturgies for something other than for what they are intended. For me, this is serious because Baptism is a sign or visual aid which Jesus commanded his followers to use to personally identify with his death and resurrection. It is part of the core of Christian faith and a mark of a true church. Allowing it to be used otherwise is to deny the very heart of his message.

Jesus’ teaching has always been challenging and counter-cultural. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls it a narrow way and a hard way. But if we call him ‘Lord’, then we’re under orders and owe an unqualified allegiance to our Master and his word. So very sadly and with a heavy heart, I can no longer be part of an institution that undermines this.

This is why, in conscience, I will be resigning as vicar of Fowey at the end of September. 

However, I am committed to the people of Fowey and to communicating the good news of Jesus as faithfully and engagingly as I can to our town and beyond. So I am not leaving. 

I am also committed to the historic orthodox biblical Anglican faith which is held and loved by the majority Anglicans around the world. So, with others, I will be setting up a new church community in Fowey from the beginning of October and I will continue to be a licensed Anglican (but not CoE) clergyman tied into the worldwide Anglican Communion. I will still be available for weddings and funerals (although not within the St Fimbarrus building). We will continue to offer our monthly Men’s Breakfasts and Women’s Brunches, as well as youth and children’s work, including a toddler group. We will still seek to serve our town and enable Christians to make a positive contribution to our community.

Where and when the new church will meet is still to be finalised. But it will look and feel both very similar - and very different - from our current Sunday gatherings. Similar - in that there will be recognisable and historic Anglican prayers. Different - for example, if we can, we hope to do church with food, much as the first Christians ‘broke bread’ together. We aim to create a more relaxed and accessible way for people to encounter Jesus in his word and to experience the difference Jesus makes through the distinctive Christian community that he creates.  So watch this space for more details!

It will be strange not being ‘Vicar of Fowey’. I hope it will be possible to work in partnership in some way with whoever succeeds me in due course. But, in stepping out, I am endeavouring to be faithful to my ordination vows, and as the Archbishop of Jos in Nigeria, Ben Kwashi, says ‘A faith not worth dying for is not worth living for.’

with every blessing

Philip