Wednesday, October 05, 2011

It's a crisis: we're just too polite to mention it



"If you want to build a ship, don't summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, and organize the work, rather teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean'
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, [The Forgotten Ways, Page 27]

"A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution"
J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership

One of my tutors at Vicar factory used to say the key factor that marks out what it means to be in the Church of England is 'politeness'. The trouble with being polite is this very quality makes it hard for us to face up to some stark realities and talk some tough truth. Now is surely a time for decisions, leadership, repentance, prayer and the formulation of an urgent plan. It's time most importantly to pray for the nations church leaders, for Rowan and his Bishops and for all who are empowered and entrusted by God with the oversight of his bride.

"Some senior clergy believe the entire parish system could be at risk. They have warned that, with as many as four out of ten clergy due to retire within the next decade, the next ten years are crucial in determining whether the Church of England survives as a visible entity or turns into "little more than a sect" run by unpaid volunteers."

Ruth Gledhill, The Times
30th September 2011

I have a pal who is one of the most thoughtful and experienced Vicar-types I know (Someone really should get on with it and make him a Bishop). He read the Ruth Gledhill/ 'Why plant churches?' piece I wrote and emailed me this in response about the Parish system and it's really worth sharing:

"I no longer believe the Parish system can hold. I don't think it effectively manages resources and I think it can often militate against mission - by its emphasis on maintenance. There are not the resources to effectively... serve the parish system. Too little spread too thin. It was a pragmatic systematic way of pastorally "covering" and ministering to the whole nation when the CofE was in a very real sense the Nation's church, respected by the majority, at the heart of the community, with few if any other ecclesiastical alternatives. Times change, but the CofE structurally hasn't. Tweaks to parish or deanery boundaries and clustering partnerships is too little too late. But with ever diminishing clergy numbers, many who end up tied up with 10+ parish churches, with their ageing buildings, dwindling congregants, crumbling buildings, the role of many clergy becomes no longer what they were ordained for - living and proclaiming the gospel. Instead they rush around, swamped by 10 PCC's, spend their time putting together complex matrixes for services at their multiple churches attended by a handful who refuse to join together at "the other church" - they are always juggling whilst standing in quicksand. The idealistic principle that every person/place is spiritually covered by an Anglican church/priest simply does not take account of the fact that the archaic parish system actually curtails creativity. It often militates against pioneering gospel mission where it may be needed- in "the next door parish" where the witness of the gospel may have become very weak due to unbelieving or uncreative clergy, who bide their time till retirement, with apparent little care about the eternal destiny of their parishoners to whom they are licensed to care and minister with gospel and sacrament. The Parish system does not take account of the resources of the wider body of Christ, partnering with other Christians and churches in that defined parish, but it has the underpinning arrogance to think that the Anglican priest is God's man or woman in that place. It's time for some radical, creative, faith-filled, prophetic thinking about structures, and also some re-thinking of who we ordain and how we train them to do church in C21st culture. I'm not sure I have an answer, but it begins by facing up to the crisis."

We would all do well to listen to this called 'Why plant churches?' and to read this.


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