When Churches Together in England (CTE) was established in 1990, the Free Churches had already worked together for over a hundred years. In 1940 the Free Church Federal Council was created, bringing together a number of predecessor bodies.

With a considerable overlap of membership, it was inevitable that the two bodies worked closely together and after ten years the questions about why they should be separate bodies became more pressing.

Better together

By the end of 2000, the Free Churches Council, as it was then known, decided to enter into a ‘collaborative agreement’ with CTE, a move welcomed by Churches Together in England’s Enabling Group at its meeting on 2 December 2000. The January 2001 edition of Pilgrim Post, the precursor to CT e-News, reported:

Bill Snelson and Geoffrey Roper, (CTE and FCC General Secretaries), reminded the meeting that the FCC would cease to exist in its present form but the Free Churches would have a group within CTE to deal with their own agendas. This would also serve those Churches which were at present members of the FCC but did not feel able to join CTE.
Geoffrey Roper said that FCC Member Churches were enthusiastic about the new arrangements, and that he and other FCC staff looked forward to joining the CTE staff.
Following the acceptance by both FCC and CTE of the Proposed Mode of Implementation, a Joint Operating Agreement now needs to be drawn up, describing in greater detail the intended ways of working.
It was agreed that the history and contribution of the FCC, and the significance of its merger with CTE, should be marked and celebrated, and the General Secretaries were urged to consult widely on this and make appropriate arrangements. 

This strategic partnership between CTE and the newly-named Free Churches Group (FCG) worked very well for over ten years. The staff of both charities shared office and administration facilities based at their central London Office in Tavistock Square, owed by the FCG, and were all employed on CTE contracts. CTE staff focused on building and strengthening the ecumenical relationships of Member Churches (many of whom were also members of the FCG), whilst FCG staff focused on facilitating the engagement of Member Churches in prison and health care chaplaincy and in education matters (particularly getting members of the Free Churches to serve on Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education).

Changing needs

In 2012, members of the FCG meeting in the Cotswold felt that the time had come to once again raise the profile of the Free Churches in England and Wales by recovering a distinct identity for the FCG within the broader ecumenical landscape in England and Wales. One of the key outcomes of this meeting was the appointment of a General Secretary for the FCG tasked with reviewing the relationship between CTE and the FCG to give effect to the sentiments from the Cotswold meeting. At the same time, CTE had engaged in a strategic review process.

The outcome of both these reviews during 2013 culminated in the separation of the shared administration and financial arrangements between CTE and the FCG and the transfer of those staff members paid by the FCG onto FCG employment contracts. The two bodies continue to share office space at the FCG office in Tavistock Square, London, and when the changes were annouced in January 2014, both David Cornick, CTE’s General Secretary, and Frank Kantor, FCG General Secretary, stressed that ‘the relationship between us remains warm and cordial’ and that they ‘look[ed] forward to continuing to work together as strategic partners in the future’.