At the start of each year in the United Kingdom, the monarch doles out “honors” to citizens who’ve contributed to the betterment of British society. This year, both Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, and his longtime friend, Nicky Gumbel, head of Alpha, received awards. Now a split between the two over same-sex blessings could split the Church of England.

When Americans think of the Church of England, they don’t necessarily think “evangelical.” However, Billy Graham and other evangelicals from the United States had a profound impact on the church in the 1960s. Today, about 40% of the Church of England’s members consider themselves evangelical in part due to the impact of the neo-charismatic mega church Holy Trinity Brompton in London. Gumbel and Welby, who have been friends since high school, are both products of HTB and proponents of its theology.

Gumbel started at HTB as a curate and became the church’s vicar in 2005, a post he held until his retirement in 2022. On Sundays, his casual style attracted thousands across HTB’s various campuses, including a former Spice Girl, survivalist Bear Grylls, and members of the band Mumford and Sons. HTB also is responsible for planting 80 other churches across England and Wales, which together comprise the HTB Network.

As impressive as this is, Gumbel’s greatest contribution to the Church of England is Alpha. “We identify Alpha with Nicky Gumbel; they’re synonymous. He’s been the pioneer of it since the early 1990s and it was really under his ministry that Alpha became super charged,” said Andrew Atherstone, author of the book Repackaging Christianity: Alpha and the Building of a Global Brand. Gumbel transformed a 10-week discipleship course at HTB into an evangelizing juggernaut now running in 140 countries, including the U.S.

Justin Welby, who was baptized and married at HTB, later left his lucrative career in the oil industry for the ministry after hearing a sermon there. What followed was a meteoric rise through the church hierarchy, culminating in his appointment as archbishop in 2013. The influence of HTB is evident in his focus as archbishop on church planting, evangelism, prayer, spiritual renewal and recruiting young people.

Nevertheless, Welby has been at odds with more conservative “evangelical” elements within the church. Only a year into his tenure, he sparked controversy in 2014 when he pushed for the consecration of female bishops in the face of conservative objections. The measure passed the General Synod and the church appointed “flying bishops” to appease those who objected to oversight by a female bishop.

The current crisis over same-sex blessings, however, may permanently divide the Anglican church.

Read more about what a split could mean for the Church of England, and the two men at the center of it at Baptist News Global