These words were thrown into the mix during an excellent discussion with my colleagues on the shape our combined ministries should take. Wearing my missioner hat I tried hard to point out the realities of the word but the problem was that the Dario Fo farce-like reality of 'can't pay - won't pay' was made all the more real by the words of some at diocesan level who baldly state that "If you can't pay then you can't have!"
There is a problem within the Church of England in that one side of the coin has churches who are able to pay are, in the main, also 'comfortable' whilst the other finds churches in Urban Priority Areas (UPAs), Estates and rural settings who struggle to exist.
Now, just in case anyone thinks that I am having a go at those churches who can pay (and this is not easy in today's economic situation), please be assured that I am not. My sending church was one who managed to pay their share with little trouble and they were also engaged in the community around them and supported a church in what for them was a UPA setting. Having money is not a sin and does not imply any lack of missionary or evangelistic, social-concern or any other zeal. It is not a sin for a church to have money or to have people who can afford to support the church (although there are some perils - but I will revisit them some other time).
There is an attitude from some that the UPA, Estate church fraternity are living a lifestyle that serves them and fails to support the central church. I have been in conversations where the 'haves' give the impression that the 'have nots' are, much like the scroungers the Daily Fascist revels in, the victims of their own folly, lifestyle or lassitude. This of course is, generally, not the case. Now I do know some congregations who have a begging-bowl mentality, but these are very few and far between.
Now Jesus never told us to go into the places that could afford us and this is the problem we face in that if those who can't afford the Gospel being preached, the pastoral and social action being present and a place of welcome and support being open are never touched then we deny the words of James' (2:9) in that we are showing partiality and the very people who are captive to so much are not to be set free because the Church isn't willing to foot the bill!
I know of churches who cannot pay their parish share and yet, despite this, have seen people come to faith in fair numbers over the past few years. So here's a few questions (answer if you dare):
How do we put a price on this?
Do we set limits on how many need to be in the congregation before we take them seriously?
If a church can't pay the share in full and yet sees one or two people a year come to Christ, is it valid? If we say 'Yes' then why aren't we willing to support it from external sources? If we say 'No', then what makes a church valid?
If a church pays its parish share but exists only for itself, is this a valid church? Who decides (and why)?
I am finding an increasingly cynical and despairing tone amongst many of the clergy and congregations I come across and yet, as I see it, the future's bright and the achievements, commitment and faith are cheering and fantastic. I see positives but the need for the words, and actions, of those who set the direction need to take these up and be consistent in following and encouraging those who do Church where it meets the world.
I look forward to your answers, experiences and considered views.