Calvin Robinson addressing GAFCON IV

Christ Church Exeter has withdrawn from the Free Church of England. On 19 April 2023 the parish – the oldest congregation extant in the FCE – posted a statement on Facebook saying:

“On Good Friday 2023, the church membership voted to leave the FCE. We had called on the denomination to repent of its departure from the historic Protestant faith upon which it was founded and repent of its behaviour to former ministers including Revd Arthur Kay (St. John’s, Tottington), Jonatas Bragatto (St. Stephen’s, Middlesbrough) and Bp. Josep Rosello (Christ Church, Exmouth) but our calls went unheeded. We have not left hastily. We know there are good folks within the FCE and we wish them well but sadly we cannot remain there ourselves. We believe God is honouring us and  that He will continue to do so. We have good news to share and we  will continue to do so too.”

The FCE arose out of discontent within the Church of England with the perceived drift towards “Romanism” and “ritualism”.  In the 1840s some congregations witnessed “Surplice Riots” when parishioners pelted the clergy with rotten vegetables and eggs after they started to wear a black gown to preach.  In September 1844 dissenting members of the established church in Exeter met in the Commercial Hall in Fore Street and chartered “St James Free Church” with the Rev. James Shore as its minister.

The congregation moved into a building provided by the Countess of Huntington in 1860 on Grosvenor Place and took its current name. The small stone church which seated 300 was completely destroyed during the blitz on 4 May 1942. However the Sunday School Hall that had been erected across the street survived the bombing unscathed, and the congregation worshiped there until a new chapel was built in 1957.

The FCE is comprised of two dioceses, the Northern Diocese under the church’s Primus, The Most Rev. John Fenwick, and the Southern Diocese under the Rt. Rev. Paul Hunt. The FCE – which is a member of GAFCON – has been roiled by discord over the past two decades. In the northern diocese seven churches have closed and four quit the denomination. The withdrawal of Christ Church Exeter over Bishop Fenwick’s leadership drops the number of southern congregations to nine.

Neither of the FCEs bishops are present at GAFCON. However, popular television commentator the Rev. Calvin Robinson, an FCE deacon, gave a report to GAFCON noting there were encouraging signs. He noted the “FCE had gone through an identity crisis” in recent years, but there were a “list of joyful accomplishments: five converts from Islan, three new deacons, two new priests, and two transfers of clergy from the Church of England.”

Mr. Robinson noted plans were underway for GBNews to give him a weekly religion show on their network, with the goal of promoting the Gospel of Christ across Britain.