A former Ludlow priest today revealed he is turning his back on the Church of England so he can lead the weddings of gay and mixed-religion couples. Mark Townsend, from Leominster, said he had grown tired of the “creakiness and backwardness” of the church so he will join the Open Episcopal Church.

He wants to be able to express his pagan-leaning beliefs in the new role and a druid chief and goddess priestess have been invited to his induction. The ceremony will be led by the Right Reverend Jonathan Blake, best known for conducting a wedding on Channel Four’s Big Brother’s show.

Mark said, "I’ll be able to be myself finally and do things like gay ceremonies, unusual baptisms and marriages between Christians and Buddhists. I still love the Church of England but I got tired of the creakiness and backwardness of it all. I am very much a radical, but the Open Episcopal Church is very similar in structure and tradition to the Church of England. What it will do is to continue my very eclectic ethos and serve people who are right on margins of our society.”

COMMENT: Mark is a good, Christian man of integrity who attempts to be as true to the Gospel and himself as possible. I really do wish him well and I pray that his ministry will flourish.

In many ways I find myself in a similar position to Mark. In fact, I have been advised on many occasions, especially by Unitarian blogger, Adrian Worsfold, to follow Mark's path. Of course, I have been tempted, but it isn't going to happen. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, like Mark, I am disillusioned with the Church of England at the moment. I am an idealist and my church is embarrassingly pragmatic at the moment, functioning more like a business venture than a community of believers in the radical teachings of Jesus Christ. But, I am not just a member of the Church of England, I am a member of the worldwide Anglican communion and there are parts of that communion, especially in the Americas, that I am certainly not disillusioned with enough to want to break from them. In fact, I have a very high regard for the Episcopal Church in the United States as a whole even if I think some of its bishops are bullies and hypocrites.

I believe that the diocesan bishop is the office around which an episcopal church is built. I do not like the idea of bishops crossing borders. This means that, although I would really love to approach a TEC bishop and ask him or her to accept the role of being the episcopal authority over me, I cannot do so (even if there was a TEC bishop open to the idea) because it would be a hypocritical act. I can hardly denounce CANA whilst accepting the leadership of a bishop in another province from my own. However, I have been mulling over the idea, that has been suggested elsewhere, of a bishop for the Internet and have come to the conclusion that such an office, if adapted, could be useful and could persuade disillusioned priests, like myself, to stay within the Anglican fold. But one thing is for certain, a bishop with such a remit could not act like a bog standard diocesan bishop. She or he would be restricted by the nature of the Internet and its users to a spiritual and pastoral role. And this is exactly what I need. To be honest it is something I have never experienced with a diocesan bishop which is, no doubt, a major reason for my estrangement from the institution of the Church of England at present. But an Internet only bishop, freed from the administrative duties of a diocesan bishop, and chosen for his or her pastoral abilities, should have the time to do this most central part of a bishop's duties properly. Anyway, it's an idea.

The second reason I cannot follow Mark's chosen path is that, after much research, I have found that all the alternative episcopal communions in England are more than a little barmy (crazy). For example, my local independent catholic congregation believes in many of the doctrines and teachings of the theosophical movement. Now, I have no problem with Christians taking on board other spiritualities. I have no problem, whatsoever, with Mark wanting to include elements of paganism within his priestly ministry. I hope that this attitude comes across strongly in what I say on this blog. But, personally, as I keep telling people, I am boringly orthodox myself. I have to accept the fact that the reason I will not consider leaving Anglicanism is that I am an Anglican. It's my church and I'll be buggered if I'm going to leave it because its present hierarchy cannot see the wood of the cross for the trees of the institution.

To put it simply, the Church of England is stuck with me and I am stuck with it. I do have an alternative priestly ministry to what is the norm at this moment in time and I have started to pursue it with all the energy and enthusiasm I can muster. But I do so as an Anglican priest, a stubborn Anglican priest who is one hundred percent convinced that one day people like me will not be the outsiders and that the good news of Jesus Christ will once again inform his bride, the Church.



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  1. “I have to accept the fact that the reason I will not consider leaving Anglicanism is that I am an Anglican. It’s my church and I’ll be buggered if I’m going to leave it because its present hierarchy cannot see the wood of the cross for the trees of the institution.”

    Wow. This is truly inspiring. And eloquently stated. In fact, this is the case with your whole post here.

    Also, it made me think. And that’s always to the good.

  2. Of course we need an internet bishop. It’s a way for some bloke to get a little power, and we sure do need more of that. NOT.

  3. I really liked his book. I don’t agree with everything he wrote in it, but it’s a remarkable tale nevertheless.

    And I dig that Viking sword he’s got in that picture. I would, though. 🙂

  4. Oops, my bad. Not a Viking sword, but a Claymore. The hilt looks very like a William Wallace, really.

  5. I once asked our local Mennonite conference minister what his role was. He said, “I try to give pastoral care to the pastors, and I organise continuing education for them; I help churches that are in transition find new pastors, and I try to help when churches are having trouble and conflict; I serve the conference board and provide some spiritual leadership and vision for them; I participate in special events and guest preachments in the churches, and I represent Mennonite Church Alberta to other denominations”.

    My response: “So you’re like an Anglican bishop, except you can’t tell anyone to do anything”.

    His reply: “That’s about right!”

    I also note that when Mennonite Church Alberta is having difficulty coming up with the money to pay their conference minister, their response is not to lay off one of their pastors as we so often do. Rather, they make the conference minister a part time job!!!

  6. By the way Jonathan, you may be orthodox, but “boringly” so?

    Um, if I may be so blunt: “hellz to the no.” I’m afraid that given my understanding of what “boring” means, you definitely do not fit that description.

    Other than that – blended traditions (esp. pagan and Christian) are historically not unusual. I’m not sure why anyone would think it is such an odd thing. Egil Skallagrimsson, consummate Viking, Odinsman and tradesman (among other skills), had himself “prime signed” or anointed with holy oil with a promise that he’d someday be baptized, and he did this so he could enter into business deals with Christians, who otherwise refused to trade with Heathens. He never did get baptized *this side* of the grave, but there’s no telling what happened after his departure from this life.

    And there were some who, when they were on land, they sacrified to “the White Christ” but when at sea, sacrificed to “Red Thor” for safety. See? Not unusual at all.

    Besides, most of our modern Halloween and Christmas traditions are holdovers from pagan traditions anyway, so why not just have fun with it? 🙂


  7. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice, Tim?

    And we wouldn’t even have to make our Bishops part time if things got tough financially. We could just insist that they live on the same stipend as their priests.

  8. Your reasons for staying with the C of E resonate in my heart. They are very similar to mine for staying in the AC of C.

    At our most recent clergy retreat I was asked by a small group of priests to organize a support group for those of us with similar struggles. There is a real need out there for people struggling with the Church with its many layers to find support in those struggles – just a chance to come together and talk freely. We don’t expect to find answers, although if we do it is a bonus, we just need to know that we are not alone in our struggles and to find a safe space to voice those struggles. As is shown by the followers of your blog – there are many more of us than the Church would like to acknowledge. And your blog provides one such space for us. Thank you.

    Love and Prayers,
    Ann Marie

  9. Thanks, Ann. In England I doubt that you could get many priests to step forward even if they agreed with you. 30% of my readers are English but I doubt if 1% of the comments on my blog come from English readers.

  10. Well, and if all the sensible inclusive folks leave what will be left of the C of E?

    I don’t think we should leave, though I respect those who feel they must. I think we should break the doors open.

  11. “Well, and if all the sensible inclusive folks leave what will be left of the C of E? ” Rowan Williams and Canon Alyson of course!

    Jonathon, you are a priest and poet. Your post is a heartfelt loving lament to a church that dose not begin to deserve you or the others like you trying so very hard to be loyal to it.