By David Gilchrist
This article is taken from a pamphlet originally written in November 1993, and revised in 2019.
The family I came from was firmly Evangelical and Protestant. I started life as a Presbyterian in Northern Ireland, and when we came to England, we worshipped first with Anglicans, and later with Baptists. It was at the large and flourishing Millmead Centre Baptist Church in Guildford, where David Pawson was pastor, that I met my wife Jane. I was first attracted to lively Anglicanism at Oxford, especially after attending a couple of Fountain Trust conferences, which gave me experience of the Holy Spirit, and blended liturgical worship with charismatic celebration.
I decided to commit myself to going to my College Chapel, despite its Anglo-Catholic frills! In the two years that followed I came to understand and appreciate the Church of England, and especially the Anglo-Catholic style. I had already spoken to David Pawson about the possibility of going into the ministry, and he now said he wondered if the Lord might be calling me into the ministry of the Church of England, but then gave me ten reasons why he could never be an Anglican!
I was a happy Baptist in the holiday times, with Bible teaching, and the fellowship of a congregation of 500, but in term time I was a happy Anglican, discovering worship, and the Eucharist.
It was meeting Fr. Graham Pulkingham, Rector of the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Houston, Texas (where the Fisherfolk came from), that gave me clear direction to pursue the possibility of ordination in the Church of England.
I was (and still am!) an Evangelical at heart, with a charismatic experience, and an emerging Catholic spirituality. Redeemer Church Houston seemed to blend these three strands, as did the Evangelical Sisters of Mary from Darmstadt, with whom we also had close contact.
Like most Protestants I knew little about the history and development of the Church. In fact ‘Church’ was not an important word. I had absorbed the idea that ‘Churchianity’ was something to be avoided, and that it was possible to be a Christian without being ‘religious’.
Jesus and me and my Bible were what mattered.
I had come to accept that the Early Church had soon gone off the rails, that the corruption of Rome had spread, that a Dark Age descended, and the first glimmer of light came with the dawning of the Reformation. But at Oxford, (where the Oxford Movement had not died) I began to discover a different view of the Church!
I have never lost my deep conviction of the importance of Bible teaching and of a relationship with the Lord Jesus. Faith comes first. But Faith needs Order, and the two go together. I began to understand that Order was not merely a helpful addition to the Gospel, but was actually part of the Gospel taught by the apostles. The Church is part of the Gospel. I began to discover the importance of the sacraments, of worship (which the American preacher A.W. Tozer called ‘the missing jewel of the evangelical Church’), of liturgy, and of an episcopal form of church government.
The things that divided Baptists from Anglicans (like baptism, bishops, liturgy) were not of great concern to evangelical Anglicans, and most of the things I read were written from an Anglo-Catholic standpoint.
One of these was ‘The Wood’, an Outline of Christianity by Sister Penelope CSMV of the Anglican Convent in Wantage. In her section on Church History, she likened the Church to a ship, and presented a classic Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Church.
A little boat sets off at Pentecost, and grows as it sails forth. It is buffeted by storms, but it perseveres. By accident of history, the ship is divided into two decks after the Great Schism of 1054 – Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. 500 years later a third separate deck appears with the secession of the Church of England from the Roman fold. These three decks, though separated from one another, all accept the ancient traditions of the Church, the Ecumenical Councils, the orders of bishops, priests and deacons, the importance of the sacraments, of liturgy etc.. And the ship (‘the Catholic Church’) is followed by a flotilla of little boats going in the same direction – representing the Protestant denominations.
The Anglican Crisis
When I joined the Church of England, I thought I had found the English branch of the ancient universal Church. It was also the Church of the nation, with branches everywhere, and a ministry to everybody. Within it one could find evangelical commitment, charismatic fervour, and catholic tradition. I enjoyed my two curacies, which were both in lively evangelical parishes. But I knew there were other parishes without an effective gospel witness, and I felt that the bishops and the diocesan authorities should be giving a stronger lead.
When the time came to consider a move, Jane and I felt that it would not be right to take on a parish of our own. I am not a committee man, and church council meetings did not thrill me! I wanted my ministry to concentrate on Bible teaching and pastoral care. I began to explore the possibility of school chaplaincy work, and eventually accepted the post at Dover College. I had already begun to question Sister Penelope’s analogy of the Ship with three decks.
Then the news came about David Jenkins. Would the Church of England really promote to one of its most senior bishoprics, a man who seemed to deny the historicity of the Resurrection?
This issue would show whether the CofE was merely a national religious club, or whether it was indeed the Church of the New Testament, the English branch of the Catholic Church. Would it uphold the clear teaching of the New Testament, and the Book of Common Prayer, and challenge a prospective bishop who appeared to reject belief in the Resurrection? William Ledwich was the Chaplain of Hereford Cathedral School. He waited for someone in authority to challenge David Jenkins. He waited in vain, and eventually launched a nationwide petition, asking Professor Jenkins to affirm his faith in the Creeds as traditionally accepted. He tells the story in his book ‘The Durham Affair’.
The petition was presented to the Archbishop of York, but had little effect. William Ledwich handed in his licence and left the Church of England on the day of Jenkins’ Consecration. He joined the Greek Orthodox Church and was ordained as Father Athanasius.
My faith in Anglicanism was severely shaken by all this. I believed that the church whose doctrine was set out in the Book of Common Prayer, was a church based on New Testament principles. But now, Anglican leaders were denying what was safeguarded by the Anglican documents. What good were sound documents of the 16th century, if they were no longer regarded as having living authority today?
When I moved to Dover, I was pleased to be no longer employed by the Church of England, though I remained an Anglican priest with a licence from the Bishop of Dover. Committed to my work in school, I was almost an observer of what was going on in the wider Church, and things seemed to be getting worse. Liberalism was now an officially accepted face of Anglicanism. Investigations showed that a number of other bishops had personal doubts about the historicity of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. A book had been produced entitled ‘The Myth of God Incarnate’. Its heresies were not condemned by the Church. One of its contributors, the Revd. Don Cupitt, seemed to have lost faith in God, and to be a kind of Buddhist, with Christian overtones. In the summer of 1993, the Revd. Anthony Freeman was removed from a diocesan teaching position because he no longer believed in God, but he remained as pastor of his parish.
Church life in the 1980s and early 1990s was dominated by the debate and decision over the ordination of women to the priesthood. This issue is not the all important one in a church where clergy and bishops deny the fundamentals of the Faith. But it is one that brings other issues into focus. How are decisions made in the Church? Does doctrine change and develop? What is the authority of the Bible? Is the Bible culturally conditioned?
The question of the ordination of women is a matter of gender confusion. Other issues are related to it, like ‘inclusive language’ and the approval of homosexuality. In America, where women were first ordained in the 1970s, some clergy are reluctant to call God ‘Father’. They want to rewrite the Bible and the liturgy with due regard to the latest feminist thought. Homosexual practice among church members, and among clergy, is accepted, if it is seen to be within a committed and loving relationship. Yet the Scriptures condemn it! In England, many Evangelicals who had been opposed to the ordination of women changed their minds. Many who call themselves Evangelical now even believe that homosexuality may be an acceptable lifestyle for Christians.
In 1992 the Synod of the Church of England decided to ordain women to the priesthood. I told the bishop of Dover that I could not accept the Synod’s decision, nor could I accept the authority of a bishop who did. Parliament agreed to the Church’s proposal to ordain women on condition that those who could not accept this innovation would retain an honoured and accepted place within the Church. An ‘Act of Synod’ in 1993 accordingly made provision for ‘alternative episcopal oversight’ to be given to those parishes which could not accept women priests.
In December 1993 we left England for an exchange year in Australia. There I was under the care of a good orthodox Anglican bishop. When we returned to England, I became the Chaplain of Brentwood School. For two years I had no contact with any bishop, so I approached Father Edwin Barnes, Bishop of Richborough, one of the ‘Provincial Episcopal Visitors’ or ‘flying bishops’ who looked after traditionalists. I was very happy to be under his care, and under that of his successor, Father Keith Newton. Both of them were truly ‘fathers in God’ to me, and in 30 years of ministry they are the only English bishops to have visited me in my home and prayed with me about my life and work.
The Pope of Rome had been considering ways of welcoming former Anglicans into his fold and allowing them to retain some parts of their traditions. In 2011 the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established, and both Father Edwin and Father Keith became part of that. Monsignor Keith is now the ‘Ordinary’ – the leader of the group.
An Anglican & Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) has been working for 40 years to bring the two churches together, without success. The CofE has continued to reject the pleas of traditionalists, and the Pope’s offer of an Ordinariate now fulfils hopes held by Anglo-Catholics for 150 years.
When I look at the contemporary Church of England, I see a Church which tolerates unsound doctrine, and immoral behaviour. I see a Church which seems to have greater loyalty to the spirit of the age than to the Bible. I ask myself whether it is the same church as the Church of St Peter and St Paul, of St Ignatius of Antioch, of St Athanasius, of St Augustine, or even of Cranmer.
The present crisis in the Church of England is basically a question of authority.
Though it has a Catholic episcopal structure on the ancient pattern, this structure does not function according to the ancient pattern.
Heretical bishops and priests are tolerated by the hierarchy and are not disciplined: thus atheists and Arians are not removed – because the CofE prides itself on its ‘comprehensiveness’.
But the Church cannot be governed by a democratic system. How can the will of God be discerned by a majority vote in a Synod? That way, Athanasius would have been defeated in the fourth century when he found himself contra mundum, and Orthodoxy would have disappeared.?
What is the way forward?
Many clergy share my despair with the direction that the Church of England is taking.
If they take a Protestant position, they will no doubt rejoice in the freedom that incumbency gives them to evangelise their own patch. They are happy to let the light of the Gospel shine in their small corner of the vineyard, and to pray for those in neighbouring parishes where the doctrine is unsound. Some clergy see bishops as irrelevant: they are happy to cooperate with the sound ones, but can safely ignore the dodgy ones. Many clergy appreciate the ethos and style of the CofE, and they enjoy its privileged place in English society: but their position is essentially Protestant, independent and pragmatic. It does not take account of the teaching of the New Testament and the Fathers about the unity of the Church, the need for discipline, and the role of the bishop as the chief pastor.
So what is the way forward for the Anglican who wants traditional faith and order?
a) He may stay and continue to serve under the ‘flying bishops’ who have been appointed for the continuing ‘alternative episcopal oversight’ of traditionalists within the Church of England.
b) He can stay and endure compromise, perhaps ‘bowing in the house of Rimmon’ like Naaman (2 Kings 5:18), or battling with a corrupt system like Elijah and Elisha.
c) He might join ‘The Free Church of England’, ‘The Anglican Catholic Church’ or another of the ‘Continuing Anglican’ Churches. But they may peter out like the Non-Jurors.
d) He could decide to leave, and become an independent Protestant (perhaps in name as well as in practice …)
e) He could join the Church of Rome, and accept the Pope’s offer of the Ordinariate.
f) Or he may seek to join the Orthodox Church – remembering that the Church of England was Orthodox until 1054. ?
The attraction of Orthodoxy
Apart from a visit to Greece while I was at Oxford, my first real contact with Orthodoxy was reading ‘Unbroken Unity’, a biography of Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, a princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, who married into the Russian imperial family. She became Orthodox, and after the assassination of her husband, became a nun and founded the Community of St Martha and St Mary in the slums of Moscow. She was martyred in 1918.
At St John’s Theological College I met John Fenwick, who had spent a year studying in Greece. I learnt a lot about Orthodoxy from him. (John is now a bishop in the Free Church of England). At St John’s I also came across the work of Keston College, which studied and monitored the relationship between religion and Communism. When I moved to Essex I visited Keston, and began to support its work. I was invited to join a group called ‘Clergy to defend Russian Christians’, and over the next few years was sent out three times by ‘Aid to Russian Christians’ to visit Christians in Moscow and St Petersburg. Here I met, and worshipped with, prayed with and wept with faithful Orthodox Christians. My third visit was with Athanasius (Aidan) Hart. He came from New Zealand, and had been converted as a teenager through a Gideon New Testament. He belonged to a charismatic Anglican church, but then became Orthodox. He came to England, and joined Father Yves’ parish in Bath. Karen Gordon was the director of Aid to Russian Christians. She was also an Anglican who became Orthodox, and joined the Bath parish.
I was unhappy with the Church of England, and I found Orthodoxy attractive, but could I feel at home in it? It was culturally alien to my background, and my wife Jane would not be able to cope with it. And it seemed to offer little opportunity for effective evangelistic outreach in England.
Orthodoxy is largely unknown to western Christians, but is often regarded as exotic and very foreign! Protestants tend to see Orthodoxy as a funny kind of Roman Catholicism. But this is exactly how many Orthodox see Protestantism! For most Protestant groups have emerged from countries with a Roman Catholic heritage. It is so easy to get a distorted view of one’s neighbour, and of one’s brother. Different backgrounds can so easily lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation, and the same words can be used by different people to mean very different things. Paul Lansley, formerly an Anglican hospital chaplain in Colchester, tells the story of a visit to his wife’s home in Greece. He heard a villager ask the local Orthodox priest, “Are the Pope of Rome’s people Christians?” “No,” replied the priest, “They are not Christian (meaning Orthodox), they are Protestant.”
Orthodoxy is not a centralised system, like Roman Catholicism. It is a federation of self-governing churches united by their adherence to Scripture and Tradition, with nothing added, and nothing taken away.
Orthodox Christians have failed, have gone astray, have hidden their light under a bushel, as other Christians have done.
Father Lev Gillet was a French convert to Orthodoxy, whom I met in London shortly before his death in 1980. He once said, “Equally far removed both from authoritarianism and individualism, the Orthodox Church is above all a Church of love … It is a Church of contrasts, at the same time so traditional and so free, so archaic and so alive, so ritualistic and so personally mystical, a Church where the pearl of great price is so preciously preserved, sometimes under a layer of dust, a Church which has often been unable to act but which can sing out the joy of Easter like no other.”
For some time I had been receiving Andrew Bond’s publication ‘Orthodox News’. I also subscribed to ‘Orthodox Outlook’, a magazine produced by Father Stephen Maxfield, another former Anglican vicar, who is now an Orthodox pastor in Shrewsbury.
I began to hear about an American group called the Evangelical Orthodox Church. Their story is told in the book ‘Becoming Orthodox’ by Peter Gillquist. I started taking their quarterly magazine ‘AGAIN’ in 1988. Their leaders had worked with Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1960s, but they were concerned that converts were not maturing. They became unhappy with working for a para-church organisation, and began a quest to find the church of the New Testament. They formed a network of independent churches, and concentrated on a study of the early church in the first and second centuries. They discovered the sacraments, liturgy, episcopal government – in short, the catholic tradition – without losing any of their devotion to the Bible, or their insistence on the necessity of conversion. Two thousand of them were received into the Church of Antioch in 1987, and became the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission. They are now fully integrated into the Antiochian Church.
If they as western Protestant evangelicals could become Orthodox, then so could I!
In 1989 I joined the Anglo-Orthodox Society. Just as the Anglo-Catholics look to the Church of England before the Reformation, so the Anglo-Orthodox Society looked back to the Church of England before the Great Schism. (The AOS ceased to function soon after the Synod vote in 1993, and many of its members joined the ‘Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy’, which became the British Deanery of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.)
But I wondered, how many other people of my background were seriously interested in Orthodoxy? It was therefore a tremendous encouragement to hear in early 1993 that Canon Michael Harper, one-time curate at All Souls, Langham Place, founder and director of the Fountain Trust, then of SOMA, was being drawn to Orthodoxy.
Father Michael was received into the Orthodox Church in 1995, and was the first Dean of the British Deanery of the Antiochian Orthodox Church until his death in January 2010.
Over the following years, my work in school took all my time, but I continued to be concerned at the direction the CofE was taking.
In the autumn of 2009 my dear wife was diagnosed with cancer, and the Lord took her just before Christmas.
My daughter had been very small when I had visited Russia in the ’80s, and she reminded me that I had promised to take her to Russia one day. Neither of us was working at the beginning of 2010, so we went together at the end of February for a week in Moscow and Petersburg. It was a huge joy for me to see how the Christian Faith and Orthodoxy have been re-established in Holy Russia! It was an amazing experience to pray before the icon of the Iverian Virgin at the rebuilt Resurrection Gate on Red Square, to worship in the Kazan Cathedral and in the great Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (originally built to thank God for Russia’s deliverance from Napoleon, and rebuilt to thank God for Russia’s deliverance from Communism), and especially to visit Matushka Elisabeth’s Convent of Saints Mary and Martha.
I came home with a renewed desire to become Orthodox, and since then I have been attending the monthly Orthodox liturgy served in Canterbury.
Some years ago, Michael Harper wrote a book called ‘This is the Day’. It featured three sisters, representing the three major strands of the contemporary church – Roma, Evangeline and Charisma. He was pleading for the three to come together and to work together. I believe that the charismatic movement has done a tremendous job in drawing Christians of different backgrounds together, breaking down barriers and building bridges.
I believe now that Orthodoxy is the way forward for the future.
It may be painful and costly, but what advances in the Christian life are not?
I believe that Orthodoxy offers a fullness of Christian experience that can be found nowhere else. It is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, founded by the Lord Jesus, and not by a man, dependent neither on one man’s interpretation of the Faith, nor on the insights of one century, teaching the apostolic faith with nothing added and nothing taken away.
I do not deny or reject what has brought me to Orthodoxy. I do not deny that non-Orthodox are Christians and will inherit the kingdom of Heaven. But it is fullness that I covet – the faithfulness to the truth and power of the Bible of the evangelicals, the freedom and the experience of the living God of the charismatics, the historical continuity, authority and discipline of the catholic Church – all of which can be found within Orthodoxy.
I was received into the Church in the Canterbury community in December 2013, and am now very happily settled as an Orthodox Christian! The Canterbury community uses English in its services and a priest comes from London once a month.
The other weeks I go to the Greek church in Margate. More English is being used in the services, and it is always wonderful to hear the Gospel and the Epistle read in the language in which they were first written!
Glory to God for all things!
David Gilchrist was born in Belfast in 1951. The family moved to England, and he went to school at Monkton Combe, and read Greats (Latin & Ancient Greek) at Merton College, Oxford. He studied for the ministry of the Church of England at St John’s College, Nottingham. He was ordained priest in 1980, and served two curacies in Essex at Ilford and Buckhurst Hill. For 10 years he was Chaplain at Dover College, followed by an ‘exchange year’ as Chaplain at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School in Brisbane, Australia. From 1995 till his retirement in 2012 he was Chaplain at Brentwood School in Essex.
His wife Jane died of cancer in December 2009. Their son Edward is the financial director of a firm in London: he is married to Nicci and they have two sons born in 2010 and 2012. Their daughter Emily trained as an actress, and is now married to Alex, and they have twin girls born in 2016. David now lives in the flat in St Margaret’s Bay near Dover, which Jane had been preparing for their retirement.