Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Church of England - Decline Terminal

The latest news today, if the newspapers and radio reports are to be believed, is that the Church of England has been diagnosed and found to be in terminal decline and is not expected to last more than a generation.
The sad news was delivered by former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who continued to describe the symptoms of defeat, despair and a general lassitude (or 'heaviness' for the lay people out there) within the body and an ability to bring about a 'rolling of the eyes and yawning' amongst the general populace whenever it might come into contact with this terminal entity.

He continued to describe some other symptoms this terminal illness was making apparent upon various parts of the body (the Church formerly known as the CofE) where, 'Churches are struggling, some priests are diffident and lack confidence; a feeling of defeat is around ... as the  joy in ministry has been replaced by a feeling of heaviness.'
One of the greatest effects of this is obvious for as the CofE became less of a threat and accepted its role as a friend of all rather than a voice for change (my words - not his) is that, 'The reaction from the public is not so much hostile as dismissive.' But then again, it doesn't need to engage in hostile with us does it? We are of course far too busy righting wrongs and tilting at the windmills of or own choice and making for anyone to see us as a threat!

"We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”
Carey describe the response in a little more depth in that society makes its feeling regarding Church know in a number of non -verbal ways: 'the shrug of indifference, the rolled eyes of embarrassment, the yawn of boredom.' I have to say that I found the next bit really encouraging when he (Carey) says:
'So many people do not see the average church as a place where great things happen. “To sit in a cold church looking at the back of other peoples’ heads is surely not the best place to meet exciting people and to hear prophetic words.'
The situation was confirmed by a current senior churchman, Dr John Sentamu (Archbishop of York) who elsewhere observed that the only hope the Church had was to be found in the administration of large doses of evangelism.
evangelise or fossilise”

Dr Sentamu's passionate plea for action was met by an entirely Anglican response as the governing body (the General Synod) voted to set up a committee!

I think George Carey is splendid in the way that he has drawn attention to the fact that we are more taken up with social action and consecrating women* and all the other stuff that those clergy I often bump into witter endlessly about (and this doesn't mean I am in opposition to any of them before people start with their homophobe, misogynist or whatever else label they might like to try and apply). I know people think these things are important (and often quite rightly so) but you know what, when it comes to making the Gospel known and helping people into relationship with God - I have to say that they are all second order issues and shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of the really important stuff. A little perspective is all George (and me too) is asking for.

Teaching one of the units of the Mission Shaped Ministry course last week I was (once again) taken up by this:

The Church is by nature missionary to the extent that, if it ceases to be missionary it has not just failed in one of its tasks, it has ceased to be Church.
J. Andrew Kirk, What is Mission?: Some Theological Explorations
Darton, Longman and Todd, p30

The problem is that for some we have ceased to be Church and have become a wonderful group of people who are concerned with being popular rather than righteous. We refrain from saying whose name we are doing what we do in and have even ceased from doing it on the grounds that it might alienate or offend.

Here's the news people: The Gospel is offensive to some: Always has been - Always will be!

Church is not declining (unless you want to measure it by Bums on Pews on a Sunday

Church is not irrelevant (unless you want to ignore the major life events and the challenges and tragedies of life

Church is not about pleasing people but helping people to become pleasing to God

So well done George and huzzah for General Synod as they form a committee to look at evangelism and bleah to the clergy who have already said. 'Oh well, that's good it's on the agenda - all you have to do is convince the people in my church!' If that's the people you have in the church you're in then you'd best take the leader outside and have a strong word with them!

What's that Sooty? They are the leaders???

Then a small word in your ear my clerical friends:

"We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”

* I know it's St Hilda's Day and I'm surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who are telling me that it's so good that 'at last' Synod is going to make the women's thing happen so we're in line with ...blah, blah. blah  ... but I'm just detached from it. Yes it might be different if I was a woman (but I doubt it) but if you do one thing then it follows the other (consecration) will be part of the whole. I am so tired of people giving the evil eye and acting like we are a political body (yes, I know all sides wrap it up in spiritual speak to sound like it's Church - but you know what? It ain't!!!).

Church is missional and at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves where what we dissipate our energies on leads people to Christ. As ever - it's simple stuff isn't it?


ps. To the lovely clerical lady I had the discussion with earlier - here's what I was trying to say in a way that you can take your time to read and perhaps understand a little more clearly - bless you :-)


Anonymous said...

the black polished granite gravestone embellished with gold lettering wouldn't be allowed in any churchyard in this Diocese, according to the latest copy of the Guidelines!

quotidiancleric said...

Sorry, Vic, "the people in my church need to be convinced" is exactly my response - and convincing them is my task, which I actively work at.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Headstone would be banned here too :-)

And Steve - would expect nothing less - sadly the voices I heard merely left it as being someone else's problem. At least some of us recognise it as our challenge :-)

Thanks both


Anonymous said...

Contemporary digital communication systems providing news, teaching and social interaction have replaced formerly interpersonal communication in local churches of Victorian times and early 20th Century. Moreover, contemporary people are more mobile these days on account of the automobile, so are not restricted primarily to one village or town, and its institutions. Result is that the church as an institution is less significant in contemporary peoples' lives. Furthermore, on account of multiculturalism, the mainstream media is now mildly anti-church. The result is terminal decline of the Church of England over the next 10 to 20 year period. That is the sad reality. Add in a few child-molesting vicars reported in national press, and the average member of society is rather unimpressed with the Church of England. Decline should therefore not be a surpirze.