The Public Legitimacy of the Church of England

cofe project photo

This project, originally funded as Knowledge Exchange Fellowship by TORCH, establishes a relationship between the McDonald Centre and the Centre for Cultural Witness (CCW), directed by Bishop Graham Tomlin and based at Lambeth Palace. The focus is on exploring the public legitimacy of the Church of England: understanding and evaluating the rationale for the standing it has in English and UK public life.

Through research and collaboration, this partnership aims to impact and enhance the Church of England’s thought, policy and public communication, with a focus on the contested legitimacy of its role in government, policy, and public life. Specific constitutional privileges are one proper focus and the project will engage with supporters and critics of the current establishment. Such questions of constitutional legitimacy intersect with questions of moral and societal legitimacy, not least in the relationship between the Church of England, other Christian denominations and other faiths.

The partnership is expected to enhance research by bringing a focused set of contemporary questions into contact with the theology, political thought and history which lies behind the Church of England’s public role. The project will evaluate the present state of public perceptions of the Church of England’s role in public life and assess the possible futures which lie ahead. A practical, forward-looking focus will be to collaborate with the Centre for Cultural Witness to produce material to support Church of England bishops to employ their voice and presence in the public sphere. With the complex background to the Church of England’s legitimacy in mind, the project aims to enable critical attention to the paid to deficits in the Church of England legitimacy in the eyes of many. At the same time, it will also produce resources to support bishops in making responsible, effective contributions to public debate.

People Involved
Activities and Events

Below are some of the activities that have taken place, or will take place, for this project. Please get in touch for more information. 


January 26, 2023, Consultation 

This consultation, held at the Lambeth Palace Library, brought together members of parliament, bishops, academics, leaders in Christian traditions and other interested parties to explore the project’s questions.


March 2, 2023, Symposium 

This academic meeting, held at St Luke’s chapel, explored some of the legal, theological and historical elements of debates around legitimacy. 


October 3-5, 2023, Training

This learning module for bishops in the Church of England, provided opportunity to explore the legitimacy of the Church’s public role, both in local, national and international contexts. 


June 2024, McDonald Centre Annual Conference

The next McDonald Centre Annual Conference will take place in June 2024. The conference will further develop this project’s research and public engagement.


Partner Organisations