Page 5, 22nd July 1994

22nd July 1994
Page 5
Page 5, 22nd July 1994 — Decline and fall of Establis ent

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Locations: Oxford


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Decline and fall of Establis ent

The progressive separation of Church nd State towards a `Godless state' could be inexorable, w. ms Stephen Trott

THE ENGLISH Reformation which resulted in Anglicanism was of a markedly different character to the Reformation on the continent, which created new Churches there.

The series of laws which henry VIII passed during the 1530s were designed not so much to create a new religion, as to nationalise the old one. The Church in England became the Church of England. The laws of the Church were established as the laws of the realm. An Established Church was born. During succeeding reigns, by means of state appointments to its ancient sees and cathedrals, and with the help of draconian penal laws, the Church of England was firmly fixed as the national Church, secure in the many privileges which such a status provided.

Disestablishment began in earnest in 1829 with Catholic Emancipation. The Oxford Movement began in 1833 as a protest against the loss of the Church of England's privileges, in a sermon by the Oxford Professor of Poetry, the Reverend John Keble. His introduction to the published sermon is remarkable for its prophetic note for all the modern churches: "The Apostolical Church in this realm is henceforth only to stand, in the eye of the State, as one sect among many, depending, for any preeminence she may still appear to retain, merely upon the accident of her having a strong party in the country."

He was protesting against the action of Parliament in reducing the number of episcopal sees in Ireland, and redistributing their substantial endowments. Such reforms went on through the 19th century, along with the progressive abolition of disabilities imposed on Dissenters. Although many of the reforms were muchneeded, Keble was right to foresee that the influence of the Church of England would be much diminished.

The Nonconformist parties hoped to gain where the Church of England was being driven back from its citadels. Their influence in Parliament grew and they succeeded in winning the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland in 1868, and in Wales in 1919. Many other Anglican privileges were removed. The course of the Church's fortunes in the preset century, however, has n been one of others stepping where Anglicanism has forced to share its wealth d status, but one of steady d almost universal decline. State, which previous regarded the Church England as its (almost) eq partner, has come increasingly to adopt an attitude of equal treatment for those pf every religion, and none.

Once the principle f Establishment had be n breached, the alternative either to establish everyo else on equal terms, or o have no established religio .

The progressive separati n of the Church of Englaid from the State during t is century marks the inexora le move in the latter direcdo a godless State.

This process has be n accelerated more th n anything else by the 1944 Education Act, by which e Church of England agreed o had over its large portfolio of schools to be maintained y the State, in exchange r what has proved to be a somewhat vague and une forceable commitment by government of the day jto ensure that the Christian gion continued to be taught to children in its care.

Despite a powerful campaign led by the Bishop of Oxford, Kenneth Kirk, the Church entered in 1944 into an agreement which has more than anything else undone its influence at large.

The Catholic Church was n y f


much more cautious, ail d retained control of its o n, smaller number of schools, with the result that the Catholic population has been maintained rather more successfully. The cost has been high for many Catholic

parishes, but the comp n between average Church of England and avers e Catholic schools reveal a better-instructed community, participating more regularly in meaningful worship, aid generally far better integrated into the life of the loclal Church community. There are exceptions, but on the whole, the Church of England would have been wiser to pay the cost and keep its schools. Nowadays the State can o y manage a recommended 0 per cent of the religio s curriculum for Christian! , the other 50 per cent to be teaching of non-Christian faiths. It is Christianity itself

which has become, in Keble's words, one sect among many.

The remarkable thing is that what we are now seeing in modern Britain is not the decline of the Church of England alone amongst the Churches. All the Churches have seen decline taking place: first the Nonconformist denominations, following the collapse of their political influence with the demise of the Liberal Party; then the Church of England, as its unquestioned status at the heart of English society has gradually waned. Recently Catholic numbers too have suffered, as its community, freed of the ancient stigmas of being as a foreign mission and enemy of the State, has been steadily absorbed into the mainstream of British society.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that all the Churches are actually interdependent, to a degree which they never previously suspected. It is better for the Christian Churches in general to have one of them established albeit as a matter of historical accident than for the State to be secularised. The creation of secular culture in which anyone's religion is purely a matter of personal preference would be dramatically accelerated if the Church of England were now to say that it "wants its freedom".

What little privilege and status it retains, and it is precious little, it does so on behalf of ali Christians in this country.

It is tempting to think of the bishops driven squeaking from the Ilouse of Lords, but their 26 seats will not be filled by other Christian leaders. Once they are gone, there will be no voice for any of the Churches, except for the accident of a few parliamentarians with an interest in the subject.

How urgent ecumenism has become! If the Church of England does not learn soon to share these surviving spheres of influence by opening itself up to include other denominations in the leadership of a united Christendom, then all the Churches will face an increasingly bleak future together in the modern vacuum which Britain is fast becoming.

They all need quickly to join together in what little Establishment is left before it is gone for ever.

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