How does one apostatise from the Church of England, and what are the (practical) consequences?
September 28, 2011 4:30 AM   Subscribe

IrreligionFilter: When I was around 12 I was baptised and confirmed into the Church of England. I no longer consider myself as theist. What are my options for formally renouncing my religious past (apostatising)?

Between the ages of eleven and twelve I was philosophically 'lost'. A big fan of science (and physics, particularly) caused my still-developing brain to be overrun with grand ideas and the wonders of the universe.

However the sheer scale of the universe and my relative insignificance had me clutching for explanations and meaning. With no pushing from my parents or teachers (they were all liberal and wanted me to come to my own conclusions, regardless of what they were) I 'found' religion in the form of the Church of England.

Around a year later I was baptised and confirmed by the man who would later go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Since then I've slowly (but surely) been losing my religion and finding greater and greater comfort and understanding in certain Western philosophies and a continued love for the natural sciences.

While I cannot currently determine my exact nontheist stance (it's one of either Apatheism, Agnostic Atheism, (Secular) Humanism, or Post-theism), I am definitely no longer a theist and as such am considering apostasy.

How does one apostatise from the Church of England, and what are the (practical) consequences?
posted by fakelvis to Religion & Philosophy (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If one had to leave a church the most laid back would be the CofE imho. As far as I know there are no 'consequences' of leaving CofE except perhaps you wanted to marry the heir of the throne (assuming you are male, there is very little opportunity on that front) or if you wanted to marry in a CofE church.

Perhaps your leaving is more symbolic rather than structural. Some people have tried imaginative means of doing it, like here . Videos here and here.
posted by london302 at 4:36 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just don't go to church.
posted by sammyo at 4:44 AM on September 28, 2011 [21 favorites]

I don't think there is a formal process. The dogmatic, formalistic rituals of the church are all centuries old - going back to a time when no one would seek to do what you are doing now.

Just stop attending. Are you dead set on making some sort of statement? Are you looking to get back at the church in some way for failing? Or, you do you simply want to move on? If you just want to move on, then just stop attending.
posted by Flood at 4:44 AM on September 28, 2011

Fakelvis, one thing to consider is that the UK doesn't have US-style separation of church and state, much less an establishment-clause-equivalent, and membership in the C of E grants members perks. The most important of these for most people is that if you ever have children while living in England, membership in the C of E will give your kids access to the best state schools in most areas. Usually the only comperable alternatives in terms of academic quality are Catholic.

Many, many passionate athiests in England return to attending church in the faith they were raised in when they have children - even spending hours on volunteer work for churches they don't believe in - to get their kids into schools. I even know people who are religious believers who converted from one denomination to another to get their children a high-quality education without private school fees.

I would think about this seriously before renouncing C of E membership to make a statement - you may end up needing it later.

(Note: I think the way the UK lets religion play a massive role in taxpayer-funded education is nuts. This is an excellent reason why the UK needs separation of church and state, but right now, it doesn't have it...)
posted by Wylla at 4:50 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Got a cite for that, Wylla? I attended C of E schools without my parents or I attending church.
posted by cogat at 5:07 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

You want an official National Secular Society De-Baptism Certificate, mate.
posted by tonylord at 5:08 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

On preview tonylord has it.

I was going to say, I think you could write to your local Bishop and seek formal excommunication, but I imagine they would refuse (and it's very difficult to do anything so bad that the C of E would excommunicate you of its own accord).

The BHA does not seem to run dechristianising sessions, though I think they would be sympathetic to the idea and they do arrange various ceremonies, so it might be worth getting in touch.
posted by Segundus at 5:13 AM on September 28, 2011

Almost all Church of England schools offer places for non-christian students and the new policy discussed here will make them reserve no more than 10% seats for C of E members.

In any case, 'membership' is no longer a criteria for admission because it is deemed discriminatory as a result Indian parents who attend enough religious classes are getting their children into Jewish schools in north London. If you have to show dedication I think by renouncing your CofE membership you have a better chance of picking the religion you want to suck up to get your child admission :)
posted by london302 at 5:27 AM on September 28, 2011

Hey. cogat! Sure - all over the place!

Here's the New Statesman on the issue.

"Both the last Labour government (especially under Tony Blair) and the present Coalition have been vocal in their support of faith schools, and have legislated to encourage their spread. Even before the introduction this year of free schools, we have seen new denominational schools being built and even former "bog-standard" comprehensives taken over by church authorities and re-invented as faith academies. In some cases, children who might previously have expected to attend their local school are being turned away because they have not been baptised, or because their parents are unable to convince the religiously appointed (and religiously accountable) teachers and governors that they are sufficiently rigorous in church attendance."

Here is the admission reference form for a church I lived near for a while - this is to get into one of the preference slots for church attendence. This church had a sign on its door specifying that all slots in the school that were not occupied by looked-after children would go to those who could provide a reference, and that the best ones were those that showed volunteer then gave rules for how to get your attendence form signed every week, and how far in advance you had to tell the pastor before you went on vacation, so this is the first place I thought to look for school documents.

More general?

Here's a statement from Ekklesia on the ongoing problem of admissions discrimination. Money paragraph:

"...the new guidance released on 27 June 2011, offers no clear advice that the proportion of pupils selected on religious grounds in schools should be restricted at all, while restating pre-existing policy that Church of England schools should "challenge" the views of non-religious pupils."

Here's the page for the multi-faith coalition that monitors/opposes this sort of thing.

Here's the C of E's own page with evasive language on admissions, explicitly reserving the right to set one's own policies within the law (which allows for preferential admissions) and specifying that 'diversity' doesn't have to mean faith diversity.
posted by Wylla at 5:35 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

How does one apostatise from the Church of England, and what are the (practical) consequences?

I can't speak for the church of England but, from the Episcopal Church in the United States, I know several priests don't consider themselves believers (they view themselves as "culturally Christian" but would be classified as atheists based on their theological beliefs). The church, itself, would still welcome you, even as a non-believer and I bet you could find your own community inside the church that would support you through your journey. So there's a difference between leaving the CoE and leaving the "faith." If you want to leave the faith, don't do the de-baptism certificate. The de-baptism certificate might make you feel better but, really, it wouldn't mean anything in church tradition that you were a part of. It might antagonize some US-based traditions (say, Baptists or Pentecostals) but probably not the CoE. It would just appear to be quite silly. Instead, just be honest with your beliefs, say you're not into JC, and be firm in that. If, however, you want to leave the CoE, then you just need to stop attending church and, if possible, asked to be removed from the rolls of the church your membership is located at.
posted by Stynxno at 5:38 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

..and some more:

Picking a borough and a faith at random (there are faith schools of all faiths), here are admissions criteria for a Catholic school - note the 'oversubscription criteria' and remember that schools with good results are almost always oversubscribed. Note also that this is a specialised foreign-language secondary - apparently, it's harder to go to the special languages school in the area if you aren't Catholic.

Oversubscription Criteria
1. Catholic looked after children who are in the care of the Local Authority or provided with accommodation by that Authority.²
2. Practising Catholic³ children from practising Catholic families who will have a brother or sister on the school roll at the time of admission and whose practice of their faith is supported by a written reference from their parish priest of the parish or ethnic chaplain of the community in which the family attend Sunday Mass and a Baptismal Certificate.
(Note: Siblings include half and step brothers and sisters)
3. Practising Catholic children from practising Catholic families whose practice of their faith is supported by a written reference from the parish priest of the parish or ethnic chaplain of the community in which the family attend Sunday Mass and a Baptismal Certificate.
4. Any other Catholic applicants
5. Other applicants whose children are in the care of the Local Authority or provided with accommodation by that Authority.
6. Catechumens and members of an Orthodox Communion.
7. Children of other Christian4 denominations whose practice of their faith, and that of their parents/guardians, is supported by a written reference from their priest or minister in the community they regularly worship.
8. Any other applicants.

posted by Wylla at 5:43 AM on September 28, 2011

You can't join the scouts without swearing an oath to some sort of religious deity. No doubt 'occasional conformity' is rife, but if you've publicly renounced your faith then you would risk looking like a liar.
posted by mattn at 5:44 AM on September 28, 2011

I think OP is looking for the perks he might lose from leaving CofE not the Catholic Church...
posted by london302 at 5:46 AM on September 28, 2011

When corrected for other social factors religious schools dont seem to be much better than non religious schools.

"We provide estimates of the effect of attending a Faith school on educational attainment progress during the Primary education phase in England. We argue that there are no credible instruments for Faith school attendance. Instead, we control for selection on religious schooling by tracking pupils over time and comparing attainments of students who exhibit different levels of commitment to religious education through their choice of Secondary school and residence. Our findings suggest that, once family preferences and selection into religious education are controlled for, Faith schools have only a very small effect on pupil educational progression in Primary school, this effect being between zero and under one-percentile on test scores at age 11, conditional on scores at age 7."
posted by london302 at 5:49 AM on September 28, 2011

Here's a 2006 paper on secondary school admissions in London from the LSE Centre for Educational Research and the Mayor of London.
Check figure 1 - religion comes in as an admission criteria for 25% of 'comprehensives'

As shown in Table 1, the vast majority of secondary schools reported that siblings and distance
were admissions criteria in the event of their being more applicants than places. Over eight out of
ten schools reported giving priority to children in care. Other commonly reported criteria were
medical/social needs and special educational needs. As might be expected, given the high
proportion of voluntary aided schools, a significant minority of schools – almost all those that were
voluntary aided – had an admissions criterion relating to religion.

I don't mean to derail into chatfilter here at all, and will stop now.

Tl;dr : The original poster should avoid renouncing the C of E just to make a statement - he/she may need church membership, and even church attendence, later.
posted by Wylla at 5:50 AM on September 28, 2011

There are different kinds of C of E schools - some are basically just the standard local school and require no more than notional respect for a Christian ethos. At others, if you're not already on the vicar's Christmas card list, forget it. There are examples of both kinds near me.

I don't think there's any real need to worry about leaving because it's pretty easy to rejoin if you feel you need to. If you're worried about schools, doing an Alpha course might actually be one of the less demanding ways of ingratiating yourself.
posted by Segundus at 5:55 AM on September 28, 2011

If you no longer put any stock in a church's beliefs, rites and rituals, why should you need to go through whatever ritual they have designated as "officially" becoming apostate? How and why would there be any more validity to that in your eyes than their baptism, communion, or confirmation rituals? Just don't go to church. Done and done.
posted by dersins at 6:21 AM on September 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

My ex, raised Catholic in America, was very set on self-excommunication. As he put it, "When they say that the Diocese of Milwaukee contains 500,000 Catholics, I don't want that number to include me."

He petitioned for excommunication, and got it... along with a very nice message saying, basically, "So sorry to see you go -- come back anytime!" So, basically, it had the same effect of canceling Netflix.

This is not to say that the CoE would be the same, nor that you wouldn't value the significance more than the institution. But in the grand scheme of things, it probably won't even have the small impact that you might intend.
posted by Madamina at 6:39 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

> the UK doesn't have US-style separation of church and state

England and Wales might not; Scotland does, and it was hard won, too.
posted by scruss at 6:40 AM on September 28, 2011

Ask yourself why it's important to you to make some sort of gesture -- to divorce yourself from the church, as it were.

Unlike a divorce, there's nobody who's depending on you or will be hurt, and you won't lose your soul (or stop being amoral person) by stopping an activity that's become meaningless to you.

Just put down the load and walk away.
posted by KRS at 6:58 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Won't affect marriage in church, the C of E has to allow anyone resident in the parish to marry in church "whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are christened and regardless of whether you go to church or not", as the C of E's own website puts it. There may be problems if either of you is divorced, and of course homosexuals need not apply, but my understanding is that if for some strange reason a Muslim and a Hindu wanted to be married in their parish church according to the rites of the Church of England, the vicar would have to oblige (I live in a very multi-ethnic and multi-faith area, and the parish church regularly pushes notices through my door reminding me that they consider me and all my neighbours to be part of their flock, regardless of our beliefs).

I'm with BitterOldPunk too. If you care about this, it shows you haven't really rejected the church.
posted by nja at 7:07 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scruss - you're right, and my wording was lazy, but Scotland doesn't have "US-style" separation either - it has 377 state-funded faith schools, most Catholic. In the US, state-funded faith schools are unconstitutional, so leaving a chirch has no state-school admission consequences. (It can have serious social consequences, including tangles with school officials, for people in very religious and religiously uniform communities, but any state official who makes an issue of it in providing a service like education is breaking the law, and those communities are very rarely Episcopalian.)

So if the OP is in Scotland, leaving the C of E would make more sense as a gesture, as long as there's no move back to England ( or no planned kids) in the OP's future.
posted by Wylla at 7:12 AM on September 28, 2011

I'm not interested in making a statement, getting back at the church, etc. The reasons are simple:

Reason one is in order to 'move on'. I think of this question about once a year, and so this time I decided to seek knowledge on my options. Given the comments here I've realised that, to all intents and purposes, I already have moved on. I haven't attended church in over a decade (and never did so on a regular basis), don't recognise the church's rituals and, frankly, don't care about any of this (hence the apatheism). So… Achievement Unlocked.

Reason two is for reciprocity: given that I no longer recognise the church, I've always thought it would be nice if the church no longer recognised me (in a manner of speaking). Given that 'official' apostasy is not possible/feasible within the CoE… that's fine. At least I now know.

Thanks for the interesting comments, everyone.
posted by fakelvis at 7:16 AM on September 28, 2011 long as there's no move back to England ( or no planned kids) in the OP's future.

It is prefectly possible to produce kids and educate them well within and outside of religious and secular schooling system without being a registered member of any faith so I don't understand this point very well.
posted by london302 at 7:17 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

London302 - I went to secular schools and am hoping to educate my own kids at home completely secularly, so I know that there are tons of alternatives.

The OP asked about possible disadvantages to officially leaving the C of E in a relatively public and on-the-record way.

My point is that the major consequence might be educational, as in many communities in England, the most sought-after state schools are faith schools that discriminate in admissions, giving members (and in some cases active members) of the C of E an edge. This is a major issue for many parents, who often scramble to renew their ties with a church when it comes time to register for school places, and one the OP should be aware of before making a decision to forgo any possibility of an admissions advantage.

That advantage might be meaningless. The OP might not plan on kids, might plan on independent/home education or another type of school, like a Steiner school, or might move to/ live in a community with lots of good secular options. Having watched several friends go through this process, I know that many non-believers end up putting a lot of effort into getting into faith schools when they perceive them as the best option for their kids.
posted by Wylla at 7:40 AM on September 28, 2011

Wylla: Thanks for the clarification. I understand.
My views on UK education system are very similar to you and am struggling to find secular options for my progeny so I get it completely.

Given that the OP does not attend and doesn't plan to attend church and given C of E does not seem to give weightage to membership alone (unlike Catholic Church) his loss (even if he decided to have kids etc etc) may at best be minimal. Your comments would apply more directly if he wanted to stop going to church or was a member of the catholic church.

Also, since all religions are allowed to participate in this scam I don't feel it is a separation of church and state issue. It is something much more vile.
posted by london302 at 7:51 AM on September 28, 2011

[folks, be helpful don't just trot out your same old RELIJIN IS TEH DUM comments please. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:08 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

here's some ideas if you're looking for ceremonial ways of moving on. with apologies to believers of all stripes.

1. more blasphemous: obtain an authentic and relevant book or publication. roll a cigarette or joint from a page of it. smoke. repeat until authentic and relevant book or publication is depleted. friends who did this enjoyed a possibly toxic black ink smoke, the symbolism of which pleased them immensely.

2. gather like-minded people or create a meetup group for a "day of sins" to acknowledge your new beliefs. i.e. go to a buffet for gluttony, go to a strip club for lust, play the lottery or make a big unnecessary purchase for greed, take a tour of rich people's houses for envy. uhh i can't remember the rest of the sins but make sure you hit them all.

3. less blasphemous: donate money or time to a cause you now support that the church does not. Take time to write a respectful and well thought out letter to the church stating why you did this and why you consider yourself to be no longer a member. either mail or destroy the letter in a ceremonial way.

4. throw a goofy apostasy-themed party with friends from all backgrounds. depending on your friends possibly include related costumes, sins, and so on. mail totally serious invitations to selected church higher-ups for lulz.

5. if you have religious objects that you would like to remove from your current life, launch a weather balloon or some sort of homebrew aircraft or boat/bottle with them neatly packaged to send them far far away. include a letter to future finders of your items.

6. take courses or attend services to learn about other religions and consider doing relevant travels, like a zen retreat to the mountains, or maybe some kind of 'purifying' ceremony. then you are not just this one thing, but you've also been a part of this thing and this thing and that thing. collect 'em all?

7. LSD.

on preview, the de-baptism certificate looks awesome. if there's a site that allows you to create those for free and enables your own input (i.e. personal reasons, new beliefs, etc), find that. if not, there should be one and i totally wanna make that site
posted by sarahj at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2011

oh, and next census, mark your religion as something unusual.
posted by sarahj at 9:47 AM on September 28, 2011

It's my firm belief that renouncing religious rites implicitly legitimizes them. Just stop thinking about religion.
posted by auto-correct at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2011

I was Christened as a baby and confirmed in the Church of England at the age of eleven. I was an atheist at 14.

Here's the way I see it. If it still matters to you enough that you feel the need for some sort of formal annulment of your confirmation, than your confirmation still counts for something, somewhere inside you. I have not only never sought out any sort of ritualistic or legalistic cancellation of my confirmation "promise", I have never felt the slightest need to since my "promise" became absolutely null, void and irrelevant the second I truly realised I had made a promise to a non-existent thing. My confirmation then became precisely as important as a promise made to small rock I found on a beach somewhere.

Do you truly realise that, or are you not sure? If you do, then it's already over. You're out of the church. It's done. One of the many things that's rather silly about the church is its fondness for making a pompous bloody ritual out of everything: simply accepting you're done with the church without any ritual is a nice way to really show that you're done, don't you think?

Reason two is for reciprocity

If you want to get back at the church, a better way is to fight it through words and argument. You could become one of those mean "New Atheists". Hey, it worked for me - and I did it in 1973! Dawkins? What a Johnny-come-lately! :-)

Good luck.
posted by Decani at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2011

Have you tried asking at your local church? They would probably know how to quit.
posted by novalis_dt at 8:30 PM on September 28, 2011

An accurate way to answer this would be "you can't".

The Church of England (and the Catholic Church which is historically and ontologically the source of the CofE) still holds that Baptism radically changes the person and makes them a part of the Church.

See this recent summary of Catholic and Anglican canon law on the topic (pages 17 and 18).

"I was baptised and confirmed..."

This means that a real change has taken place, and although you make indeed choose to move on, the Church, especially in the fuller form of the Catholic Church, will never stop recognising you:

"Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation." [Catechism on baptism].

A social constructivist answer, to me, is not very interesting - what's more interesting is verifying in experience if it is really true that this grace really makes a difference in everyday life: is there more to life than biology? ("Biology" is a fancier, less threatening term than "made of dust.").
posted by KMH at 6:05 AM on October 5, 2011

Sorry, I should also have added this reference which, although it uses the pretty harsh language common in those days (it was broadcast first in the 1930s!), really gets to the simple ontological point here:

817. I was baptized in the Church of England. What is the religion of my Baptism?

The Catholic religion. Baptism, if valid, makes a Christian. Now Catholicity is the only true form of Christianity. Therefore everyone validly baptized is radically a Catholic, even though he be unaware of it.

818. Do you deny that Baptism can belong to the Anglican Church?

Yes. All the Sacraments were instituted by Christ, and belong to Christ. Now Christ founded the Catholic Church and committed His religion to her keeping only. Therefore the Sacraments, without exception, belong to her. Not a valid Sacrament is proper to the Church of England or to any other Protestant Church. There is but one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. If Baptism administered by an Anglican be valid, the subject is baptized in the Church of England but not into the Church of England. Christ instituted Baptism into the Catholic Church, not Baptism into the Church of England.

819. If that be so Anglicans are Catholics after all, a thing which I have heard you repeatedly deny.

In virtue of their valid Baptism they are radically Catholics...

posted by KMH at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2011

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