From the Church of England to Free Church of England: Julian Mann on why he switched denominations after 23 years

Julian Mann on the day he was licensed as a minister in the Free Church of England in October 2019

Julian Mann was a vicar in the Church of England for 23 years before deciding last year to join the Free Church of England instead. He talks about what he feels has changed about the Church he served for over two decades and what he believes the future might hold for evangelicals who have decided, for now, to remain within its fold. 

CT: You left the Church of England after 23 years. Prior to that, you were an outspoken critic of the way it was approaching marriage and sexuality. Did you think about the possibility of staying and continuing to work for reform within the Church of England?

Julian: Yes, I certainly did. Back in 2016 I was in negotiation with the conservative evangelical Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas, about becoming his chaplain. That would definitely have committed me to the 'insider strategy' of trying to work for reform within the CofE. But I have to say in retrospect that I am so thankful to the Lord that this role did not work out because the insider strategy is clearly not working, particularly over the issues of marriage and sexuality.

CT: What made you decide that you could no longer stay? Was there an 'exact moment' when you felt that remaining in the CofE had become untenable?

Julian: It was a dawning realisation but the General Synod (the CofE's governing body) in July 2017 was a water-shed for me. The aggressive political correctness evident at that gathering convinced me that this denomination's direction of travel away from its foundational biblical principles was becoming fixed and determined.

Provided the small parish church family I was then serving in South Yorkshire could be guaranteed evangelical ministry through the provision of a pastor and an influx of people from its larger mission partner church in Sheffield, which thank the good Lord it has been, I was getting prepared to leave the CofE.

CT: Thinking back to when you were ordained in 1996, what was it that attracted you to the CofE at that time? In what way do you feel that the CofE has changed since you were first ordained over two decades ago?

Julian: My wife and I had a young family at that time and the CofE was able to offer us a living as well as a platform to serve Lord. Evangelicals at the parish level were largely free to pursue the kind of ministry priorities they believed in. Whilst that freedom was in some cases not balanced by proper accountability, allowing for example two notorious 'evangelicals', John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher, to do the damage that they did, that freedom allowed some very positive Christian work to go on at the local level in the CofE.

But now convictional evangelical ministry is under threat from a new generation of theological so-called 'liberals' entering the CofE hierarchy, armed with the Clergy Discipline Measure. They seem to be illiberal in a way that their predecessors weren't and committed to the social Marxism that is undoubtedly restricting legitimate Christian freedom of expression in wider society.

CT: You were licensed as the Free Church of England minister of Emmanuel Church, Morecambe, last November. What made you choose to join the Free Church of England as opposed to, say, the Anglican Mission in England?

Julian: The Anglican Mission in England is a mission agency and not a denomination. The attraction of the Free Church of England is that it is an established Anglican evangelical denomination with clear lines of accountability to its governing body, Convocation, and Canons (i.e. rules for ministry and church governance). Being rules-based is very important in ministry. It is an antidote to the sort of ego-tripping, narcissism and cronyism that has sadly come to light in CofE conservative evangelicalism.

CT: Looking back to the day you were ordained, could you ever have imagined that you would one day no longer feel at home in the CofE?

Julian: I was aware that when the CofE allowed the ordination of women to the 'priesthood' in the 1990s, it was opening the door to other changes down the line. But well into the 2000s, I naively believed that changing its traditional understanding of marriage would be a bridge too far for the CofE. But this now looks very much on the cards.

CT: What would you say to a young evangelical considering ordination into the priesthood in the CofE?

Julian: The Free Church of England is there for you, friend, if you want to join us and explore whether you are being called to serve the Lord as an ordained minister. The FCE is very emphatic about the priesthood of all Christian believers, so there is no ordination to the 'priesthood' as such. In the FCE, men called to be ministers of Christ's Word and Sacrament are ordained as 'presbyters'.

CT: Some evangelicals in the CofE are upset about the selection of Stephen Cottrell as the next Archbishop of York. If you were still in the CofE, what would you have made of the news of his appointment?

Julian: Because I was in the Province of York when I was in the CofE it would have been very difficult for me to minister under his ultimate episcopal oversight because of his insistence that the Church should adapt to the prevailing culture over sexual morality.

CT: The Bishop of Sheffield is opposing Franklin Graham's upcoming UK tour. Do you think his criticism is fair?

Julian: No, I don't. Franklin Graham has said some counter-cultural things about sexual morality and Islam, and has perhaps not expressed himself as wisely as he could have done in some isolated instances. But he is a faithful preacher of the true biblical gospel of eternal salvation from sin and death through faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ.

Again, it would have been very difficult for me to accept the local episcopal oversight of the Bishop of Sheffield had I remained in the CofE because of his public opposition to this faithful man of God who, though not an Anglican, has been upholding what the CofE has until very recently been standing for down the centuries.

CT: You are not the only evangelical minister to have quit the CofE in the last year. Do you think more will follow? What do you think the future holds for evangelicals in the CofE?

Julian: I would have thought more evangelicals will leave the CofE particularly if, as seems likely, the General Synod opens the door to same-sex weddings in parish churches in the next five years. The future is surely looking very uncertain for CofE evangelicals who are committed to the traditional biblical understanding of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman for life. They may be given space to uphold their convictions in their own churches initially but it is difficult to see how they can avoid legal action if the CofE changes its Marriage Canon.

More on this topic

Gavin Ashenden on why, after decades in the Church of England, he joined the Catholic fold