Conservative Anglican leaders have welcomed the Church of England's decision to recognize the validity of the orders of the Free Church of England. The 28 Jan 2013 announcement allows the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to license clergy from the Free Church for service in the Church of England without first re-ordaining them.
The recognition follows three years of contact between the bishops of the Free Church, the Council for Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England. Upon the recommendation of the Faith and Order Commission, the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops endorsed the recommendation leading to this week’s announcement the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had recognized the Free Church orders under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967. The Measure gives the Archbishops authority to determine whether the Orders of any Church are 'recognised and accepted' by the Church of England.
The Times of London reported that women clergy activists denounced the move calling it a step backwards as the calvinistic Free Church does not ordain women to the ministry.
However, Dr. Gerald Bray of the Latimer Trust in Cambridge told Anglican Ink, there was “no problem” in recognizing the Free Church orders. The Free Church of England is a “breakaway Anglican group, rather like the Reformed Episcopal Church in the USA. It is very small, but I know people who have gone from the C of E to the FC of E and obviously have taken their orders with them.”
“The real question is whether they can be let back into the C of E if they decide to return. There may be various reasons for refusing particular individuals, but in principle, it seems hard to impossible to say that their orders are not valid. The only surprise to me is that anyone should have thought it was necessary to 'recognize' them,” Dr. Bray observed.
Canon Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council said: "We welcome this decision by the Church of England through the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.”
“We note that the FCE is in communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, one of the founding members of the Anglican Church in North America, and that the FCE functions in the UK in many ways as a "Reformed Episcopal Church.”
According to its website, the Free Church is not a member of the Anglican Communion, "though the Provinces that make up the Communion are currently re-defining their relationships with each other and with the See of Canterbury. Since the 1870s the Free Church of England has been in full communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States and Canada. The REC is a full member of the recently-formed Anglican Church in North America. The fact that the ACNA has been recognised by some Provinces of the Anglican Communion means that the Free Church of England now stands in some degree of relationship with them, though the precise details have not yet been worked out."
The Rt. Rev. John McLean, Bishop Primus of the Free Church of England, said: “We are grateful to the Archbishops for this recognition of our common episcopal heritage. I pray that it will not be an end in itself, but will lead to new opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel.”