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The Green Report

A radical overhaul of the Church of England’s leadership is under way.

A key report sets out a programme of “talent management” in the Church.

Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A new approach, has been prepared by a steering group chaired by Prebendary the Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the former HSBC chairman. It speaks of a “culture change for the leadership of the Church”

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When Worship Degenerates into Entertainment

Telegraph.co.uk

Thursday 12 February 2015

Vicars told to stand up for Jesus by getting lessons in how to swap the good book for the joke book
Church leaders hope it will have congregations rolling in the aisles as their priests deliver punchlines with their sermons from the pulpit

Why didn’t Jesus need swimming lessons? Because he could walk on water!
Vicars across the south-west of England are getting comedy tips on how to deliver punchlines with their sermons from the pulpit.
Church leaders hope it will have them rolling in the aisles and pack more punters into the pews.
With congregations dwindling, senior Church of England figures are saying parsons and priests must move with the times to keep numbers up.
So in a bid to put a smile on flocks’ faces, a comedy workshop in Exeter entitled “Stand Up For Jesus – obviously” has been held to give clerics a few tips.

The priests even had to perform live on a stage in front of their fellow learners.
The course is being run as part of the South West Christian Resources Exhibition, often dubbed “the ideal church show”, at Westpoint Arena.
One curate, the Rev Alison Hardy, admitted: “I can’t tell jokes. I’m absolutely hopeless – I either forget the punchline or I can get every single word right… but nobody laughs.
“I don’t know what I do wrong – it would be fantastic to be able to take a story and then apply it to the gospel message in a way that’s fun and interesting.”
The Rev Julie Birkett, from Weston-super-Mare, said: “I hope it will give me fresh ideas on delivery and techniques.
“I preach regularly and write the occasional comedy sketch.
“Humour can break down barriers and enable truths to be expressed and understood in a fresh way.”
The Rev John Monaghan, curate at Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire said: “There’s a lot more colourful rhetoric and humour in the Bible than most give credit for, and for good reason.
“It’s a wonderful tool in communicating any message, and as preachers and communicators of the Bible, something that we should be developing as part of our craft.
“I’m not particularly good at stand-up, but I do love trying to make people laugh, and would love to be able to learn a few tricks of the trade to help me communicate more effectively as a church leader and preacher.”
Comedian Bentley Browning, who is running the course, said he reckoned Jesus himself was partial to a few gags.
“He was a master communicator and storyteller.
“Many suggest his allusion to a camel going through the eye of a needle would have been construed as a quip by those listening.”
Organisers said that, while most vicars already know that a few good jokes dropped into a sermon will help keep their congregation engaged in an otherwise serious message, some could do with a little help when it comes to the delivery.
Event organiser Bill Allen said he hoped the exhibition would provide “inspiration for leaders and ordinary members of every local church”.
He added: “Helping clergy put over the Christian message creatively is just one of our many aims.
“Imagine thousands of people on a Monday morning saying ‘I heard this really good joke in church yesterday’
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HS2 plans risk ‘indecent’ treatment of graves (BBC News site)graves

HS2 plans risk ‘indecent’ treatment of graves – Church

The churchyard at ChetwodeThere are fears for HS2’s impact on Chetwode’s “very fine but vulnerable” church
The Church of England has asked for bishops to be given powers to oversee the removal and reburial of bodies in graves along the planned HS2 rail line.
More than 30,000 graves must be exhumed to make way for the high-speed route.
Church officials say the Bill paving the way for the line does not provide for those remains to be treated in a “decent and reverent” way – and the Bill should not pass without changes.
But the Department for Transport said the remains would be treated with care.
The Archbishops’ Council made its criticisms in a petition to Parliament against the High Speed 2 (London-West Midlands) Bill, which grants the powers required to construct and operate phase one of HS2, between London and the West Midlands.
The petition attacks the bill for failing to “strike a proportionate balance between the rights of the Church of England to manifest its religion… and the general needs of the community that are to be met by the works” on HS2.
The petition says that by law, human remains interred in consecrated land are under the protection of the Church.
HS2 graphic
The Bill overrides that protection, it says, so other ecclesiastical safeguards should be provided for in its place.
“It is accordingly submitted that the absence of any such provision from the Bill is contrary to general legal principle.”
The graves which will have to exhumed to make way for the project are in burial grounds near Euston station, in Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, and at Park Street in Birmingham.
The Church’s director of communications, Arun Arora, said: “The Church of England isn’t against HS2 in itself.
“But for the Church to support the current route, bishops would need to be given the authority to oversee the exhumation of human remains and their reburial in consecrated ground.”
Church officials told the BBC they also had broader fears that noise and vibration from the current route of HS2 might intrude on worship at some rural churches close to the track.
One site affected – St Mary’s parish church at Chetwode near Stoke Mandeville – dates back to the 13th Century.
The Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Reverend Dr Alan Wilson, told the BBC: “Many people in Bucks have serious concerns about HS2. It is important that the disturbance of human remains is minimised, and dealt with properly.
“I am particularly concerned about the impact of the route on Chetwode church – a very fine but vulnerable early medieval building that requires proper respect and consideration.”

‘Emotive issue’

A spokesman for The Department for Transport said: “Throughout the development of HS2, burial grounds have been avoided as far as practicable.
Undated handout image issued by HS2 of the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct, part of the new proposed routeThe Church says it is not opposed to HS2 in itself, but wants changes to the Bill behind it
“We understand that the removal of human remains to enable HS2 to progress is a sensitive and emotive issue, which is why this issue is specifically dealt with in the Hybrid Bill and why HS2 Ltd recently published a paper setting out how it would deal with affected burial sites along the route.
“Though the affected burial sites at Euston, Stoke Mandeville and Birmingham have not been in use for more than 100 years, HS2 Ltd will ensure that the affected remains are treated with dignity, respect and care.”
The department would not say whether the government intended to adopt the Church’s suggested changes, but said petitioners’ concerns would be examined as the bill was scrutinised in more detail at committee stage.
It said HS2 Ltd had undertaken to co-operate with English Heritage, local authorities, the Church of England, other religious authorities and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to ensure its work was carried out in an appropriate way.
In April, MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing the bill to progress despite a sizeable rebellion by backbenchers who wanted to block it.
Because of its complexity, and opposition to it, the bill is not expected to become law until after the 2015 general election. The government proposes to start construction in 2017, with the line between London and Birmingham due to be operational by 2026
A separate bill will be brought in later by the government to allow the the second phase – north of Birmingham – to go ahead, with the aim of that part opening in 2033.

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Gay marriage will change the Church of England forever

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Blog by Damian Thompson March 29th, 2014
Damian Thompson is Editor of Telegraph Blogs and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He was once described by The Church Times as a “blood-crazed ferret”. He is on Twitter as HolySmoke. His latest book is The Fix: How addiction is taking over your world. He also writes about classical music for The Spectator.

Gay marriage will change the Church of England forever
As of today, their power is broken

The first British gay weddings today face the Church of England with a perfectly simple question to which it can only reply with embarrassed throat-clearing. Do we go along with this or not?

David Cameron’s promise to safeguard the established Church from same-sex ceremonies rings pretty hollow when you read a story like this one, from our religious affairs editor John Bingham:
Gay clergy should follow their conscience and defy the Church of England’s restrictions on same-sex marriage, a prominent bishop has said as the most radical change ever made to the legal definition of marriage in Britain comes into force.
The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, said priests should be “creative” to get around restrictions on blessings for same-sex couples and that gay clergy who wish to marry should do so in defiance of the official line.
He also claimed that several current serving bishops are themselves in gay partnerships, and urged them to publicly acknowledge their status for the sake of “honesty and truthfulness” and even consider marrying

Joined by an alliance of seven retired bishops, he condemned the Church’s position on gay marriage as “morally outrageous” and said it made him “ashamed”.
Bishop Wilson is a suffragan, not in charge of a diocese – but, really, that doesn’t matter. He’s a serving bishop with, it would appear, a ruthless streak: not so long ago, it was only Peter Tatchell who would state publicly that C of E bishops were in gay partnerships and should out themselves. And if they choose not to? Bishop Wilson won’t do it for them, but he must know that others will.

The Church’s real problem, however, is not the hypocrisy of closeted prelates. It’s that so many priests are perfectly content to solemnise homosexual marriages in church and will indeed be “creative” in finding ways to do so.

How will Archbishop Justin Welby respond? “I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it’s the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being,” he told the Guardian in best Rev J C Flannel mode. Uh-huh. Oh, and there will be “structured conversations” to help resolve the problem

Here’s my prediction. As of today, pro-gay clergy will begin to unpick Cameron’s “triple lock” banning parishes from holding gay weddings; during the next Parliament it will cease to exist. Priests who want to marry same-sex couples, or indeed marry their own gay lovers, will just do it. Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical parishes that reject the whole notion won’t be forced to host such ceremonies, but both these wings of the C of E are moving in a liberal direction, and in the long run demographic change will finish the job.
It’s hard to overestimate the weakening effect this will have on the central structures of the Church. The General Synod’s deliberations will be rendered irrelevant. The fiction of the “Anglican Communion” will be abandoned. Conservative provinces in Africa will repudiate the C of E; the last Lambeth Conference’s disciplinary action against the anything-goes American Episcopal Church will cease to mean anything.
In the 1990s, when I started reporting on Anglican affairs, gay marriage was regarded as a non-negotiable horror by most clergy and churchgoers. The shattering of that consensus has happened far more quickly than even the most optimistic Christian gay campaigners thought possible

.And if the centre cannot hold, one has to ask: what is up for negotiation next? Belief in an afterlife? The divinity of Jesus of Nazareth? After today, one thing is uncomfortably clear: the Church of England has lost the power – and even the inclination – to draw a line in the sand.

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Change and Decay 2: Church of England

imageJust 800,000 worshippers attend a Church of England service on the average Sunday
Numbers in the pews have fallen to less than half the levels of the 1960s
Census evidence shows a widespread fall in allegiance to Christianity
Numbers of Christians has fallen more than four million in a decade

By STEVE DOUGHTY, SOCIAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT
PUBLISHED: 00:06, 22 March 2014   Daily Mail

The Church of England attracts fewer than 800,000 worshippers to its churches on a typical Sunday, according to new estimates yesterday.

Numbers in the pews have fallen to less than half the levels of the 1960s, the count showed.

The signs of continuing decline in support for the CofE follow census evidence of a widespread fall in allegiance to Christianity, with numbers calling themselves Christian dropping by more than four million in a decade.

Fewer than 800,000 worshippers attend Church of England services on Sundays. Census evidence has revealed a fall in the number of people denoting themselves as Christians. Congregation levels now stand at half the level of the 1960s

The Church’s figure for ‘usual Sunday attendance’, the method used since the 1930s to measure congregations, found CofE churches had 795,800 worshippers on Sundays in 2012. The numbers were 9,000 down on the previous year.

They indicate that repeated efforts by the Church to modernise its services and its image – through a series of modern language rewrites of its prayer book, attempts by its leaders to appeal to supposed public concern with poverty, and efforts to make its government more efficient – have not succeeded in drawing young people.
Its report yesterday said that research had shown ‘there is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions to decline’, adding ‘the Church must retain its young people if it is to thrive.’

Dr Bev Botting, the Church’s research chief, said: ‘These statistics for 2012 show that weekly attendance over the past decade has not changed significantly. The introduction of cleaner data and more rigorous methodological approaches and analysis means these figures provide a clearer picture of Anglican churchgoing in the decade to 2012.’

Church officials abandoned the ‘usual Sunday attendance’ method of counting as their main measure of congregations in the late 1990s after is showed numbers in the pew had dwindled below a million. It now uses for the headline figure ‘average weekly attendance’, which takes in people who come to churches on days other than Sunday.
The weekly figure averaged 1.05 million in 2012, showing ‘no significant change over the past decade.’

According to the 2011 national census, the number of Christians fell by 4.1 million over 10 years to 33.2 million – of whom only a third go to church except for wedding, baptisms or funerals.

The census found a 45 per cent rise over the same 10 years in numbers who say they have no religion, to 14.1 million in 2001.
The decline of religion is at its fastest among young people. Nearly a third, 32 per cent, of those under 25 said on their census forms that they had no religious belief.

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The Doctrine of Feline Sedentation

The Doctrine of the Feline Sedentation…

How would the Church of England deal with “the cat sat on the mat” if it appeared in the Bible?

The liberal theologians would point out that such a passage did not of course mean that the cat literally sat on the mat. Also, cat and mat had different meanings in those days from today, and anyway, the text should be interpreted according to the customs and practices of the period.

This would lead to an immediate backlash from the Evangelicals. They would make it an essential condition of faith that a real physical, living cat, being a domestic pet of the Felix Domesticus species, and having a whiskered head and furry body, four legs and a tail, did physically place its whole body on a floor covering, designed for that purpose, which is on the floor but not of the floor. The expression “on the floor but not of the floor” would be explained in a leaflet.

Meanwhile, the Catholics would have developed the Festival of the Sedentation of the Blessed Cat. This would teach that the cat was white and majestically reclined on a mat of gold thread before its assumption to the Great Cat Basket of Heaven. This would be commemorated by the singing of the Magnificat, lighting three candles, and ringing a bell five times. This would cause a schism withthe Orthodox Church which would believe that tradition would require Holy Cats Day [as it would be colloquially known] to be marked by lighting six candles and ringing the bell four times. This would be partly resolved by the Cuckoo Land Declaration recognising the traditional validity of each.

Eventually, the House of Bishops would issue a statement on the Doctrine of the Feline Sedentation. It would explain that traditionally the text describes a domestic feline quadruped superjacent to an unattached covering on a fundamental surface. For determining its salvific and eschatological significations, it would follow the heuristic analytical principles adopted in dealing with the Canine Fenestration Question [How much is that doggie in the window?] and the Affirmative Musaceous Paradox [Yes, we have no bananas]. And so on, for another 210 pages.

The General Synod would then commend this report as helpful resource material for clergy to explain to the man in the pew the difficult doctrine of the cat sat on the mat.

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Homeowners face huge bills for repair to churches under ancient laws – regardless of their religion

Letters sent to 12,000 homeowners informing them they are liable for upkeep
Could see them helping with average bill of £80,000 if urgent work required
Experts have warned that the legal responsibility could slash home values

By JAMES TOZER – DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 01:07, 30 December 2013
Thousands of homeowners face the threat of crippling bills to repair local churches under an ancient law which applies regardless of their religion, it has emerged.
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today.
The bombshell warning – which could see them helping to foot an average bill of £80,000 if urgent work is required – is the result of Government attempts to tidy up the law on what is known as ‘chancel repair liabilities’.
Thousands of homeowners face the threat of crippling bills to repair local churches under an ancient law which applies regardless of their religion, it has emerged

Even if repairs are not needed, experts have warned that the legal responsibility could slash home values and potentially cause house sales to fall through.
Currently, many property owners are unaware that they are responsible for contributing towards the upkeep of the chancel – the area around the altar – of their parish church because they are classed as ‘lay rectors’.
While home owners who are aware their property is liable can take out special insurance to cover an unexpected bill, most are oblivious as it is not mentioned in their deeds.
The rule – which dates back to the dissolution of the monasteries almost 500 years ago – was highlighted by the case of Andrew and Gail Wallbank who inherited a farm in Warwickshire.

 

They were ordered to pay over £100,000 towards repairs to Aston Cantlow church, and following a lengthy legal battle which ended in 2008 were left with no choice but to sell the property.
After parochial church councils (PCCs) were told their members risked being made legally responsible if they didn’t identify who was liable, churches were given ten years to inform everyone who could potentially be ordered to cough up.
Now, following a Freedom of Information application, it has emerged that 247 churches have so far registered 12,276 homes or plots of land as being liable.
Letters informing the owners have been sent out by the Land Registry, which manages the list, the Sunday Times reported yesterday.
However as many as 5,000 parish churches have yet to register their rights, meaning the final total could be significantly higher.
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today
In some cases, the paper reported, large numbers of properties have been registered – St Cuthbert’s Church in Lytham, Lancashire, has registered 5,725 addresses, while St Andrew’s Church in Gorleston-on-Sea, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, has registered 854.
While the right could only be exercised if the chancel was in urgent need of repairs, recipients of the letters have suffered shock and upheaval.
Website designer Tim Acheson, a Catholic, said the liability towards repairs to grade I listed St Mary the Virgin in his home village of Braughing, Hertfordshire, hadn’t come up during conveyancing when he bought the property in 2009.
‘It means that the value of your home can be written off at any time and it is handing the church the power to make people bankrupt overnight,’ he told the paper.
Writer Miranda Seymour, whose biographies include a book on Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, was told her home, Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire, had been registered by nearby All Saints Church.

‘I am vehemently opposing it,’ she said.

Experts warned that the cost of obtaining chancel liability insurance was likely to rise for those included on the list and that some property owners had paid their local PCC up to £500,000 to buy out their liability.
A spokesman for the Church of England said the Land Registry had advised that PCCs had a duty to consider who was responsible for the upkeep of their chancel.
‘A parochial church council can decide not to enforce chancel repair liability,’ he said.
‘It can take into account the possibility of excessive hardship that might be caused to those liable if the obligation were enforced or the damage that enforcing it could do to the mission of the church in the parish.
‘But the decision is one for the individual PCC.’

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The C of E’s future. Andrew Brown’s Blog (Guardian)

The Church of England’s unglamorous, local future
The archbishop of Canterbury must acknowledge that disestablishment has already happened, and look to a future that faces reality

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The Church of England General Synod. Photograph: Johnny Armstead/Demotix/Corbis
The Church of England is already disestablished in all the ways that really matter. Whatever it tells itself, it has drifted to the margins of national life. Outside the upper classes and the traditional professions it’s no longer an essential part of the way in which the country understands itself.

England no longer capitalises “church”. This isn’t a problem about belief in God, or atheism. The number of people who call themselves Anglicans has declined a great deal faster in the last 30 years than the number who say they believe in God. Detailed polling shows that the problem gets worse as you move down the age groups, so that more people under 24 believe the church is a force for bad in society than suppose it’s a force for good.

This isn’t a problem with legal establishment – something that isn’t a live issue. It is about the role of the church in the country’s imagination of itself. And I think it is significant, and worrying for the church that the two huge national ritual self-presentations – the funeral of Princess Diana and the Olympics opening ceremony – show a marked diminution in Christian and especially Anglican content. The Diana funeral was about half Anglican, and half teddy bears. The Olympic ceremony, choreographed by two Catholics, one lapsed, had nothing Anglican in it at all.

So what the Church of England needs to do is to re-establish itself in the ordinary life of the country. Its instinct is obviously to do this with grand gestures, speeches, proclamations and debates, but this is entirely wrong. Instead of pretending it is a single coherent entity with clearly defined opinions and policies – something which simply isn’t true and never will be – it should just forget about the national level and get on with things locally.

This lesson has already been learned slowly and painfully at the international level. The attempt to present the Anglican Communion as a coherent church that could negotiate as an equal with the Roman Catholics has been an unmitigated disaster. When the resulting posturing was not vacuous it was poisonous, especially about gay people. The Anglican Communion is finished now. The schism happened and nobody cared. Individual churches have flourishing links in the ruins and this is a good and vital thing. But this is nothing to do with the Lambeth Conferences, any more than European trade was nourished by the Holy Roman Empire.

Now this must also happen at a national level. The General Synod and the “Church of England” as a body capable of having opinions or policies on anything need to shut up. No one cares what they think, except when they say or do something exceptionally crass and repulsive. No one cares what archbishops think, but churchgoers care for the good opinion of their congregations. No one goes to “the Church of England” anyway – people go to their local church. So that’s where the effort needs to go. What matters is not doctrine, but the way that faith plays out in everyday life.

This is an unglamorous and local future in which the Church of England becomes less coherent and more alive. But it’s the only future in which it has a chance. Christianity is interesting only in so far as it is true. Churches are compelling only in so far as they deal with reality. Far too much of the past 30 years has been spent in “voodoo Christianity” – the attempt to summon up importance in the world by performing bureaucratic ritual. Almost everyone in the institutional church knows this today. What Justin Welby has to do is give them permission to admit it, and to act on it. Only by admitting it has already been disestablished can the church hope ever to re-establish itself.

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Goodbye, Christianity?

Speak out – or say goodbye to Christianity
By MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT
PUBLISHED: 00:09, 22 December 2013 | UPDATED: 00:09, 22 December 2013

Once sacrosanct, Christmas is becoming an excuse for more shopping
The most successful and enduring religions offer their flocks a way of life, as well as weekly worship. They have rules, customs and calendars which bind believers together.
Until surprisingly recently, Christianity in this country was such a religion. The year was punctuated by the great Christian feast days. Church towers and spires dominated most towns and cities, and their bells were the background music of life.
Now this has almost completely vanished. New towers of mammon overtop churches and even cathedrals, and the bells are drowned out by commercial hubbub.
Remembrance Sunday is probably the only solemn event on the calendar that most people notice. Good Friday, once a rather severe day of shuttered silence, is now just another shopping opportunity. Sunday has been de-Christianised.
All that is left is Christmas, a festival whose very name is inescapably Christian, which always captivates children, gathers scattered families round unaccustomed dining tables and can still fill churches.
But for how much longer, if it, too, is to be turned into an excuse for more shopping?
You might expect the senior Bishops of the established Church, men paid to defend its worship and doctrine, to speak against the accelerating commercialisation of Christmas Day, which this newspaper reports today. It seems likely that the last laws preventing a full opening of supermarkets on the day itself will be gone in ten years. And then what will be left of Christian Britain?
Yet the three most senior prelates, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishop of London (who employs an expensive PR firm), cannot even bring themselves to criticise these changes.
This is feeble. Worse, it is a mistake. Despite our sparkling prosperity, there is a hunger in our country for something more than electronic goods and payday loans. If the Church of England does not want to satisfy that desire, someone else will

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Change and Decay

a.whittam-smith@independent.co.uk

 

The Anglican and Catholic Churches have finally realised they must change to survive. But is it too late?

The problem is not adults leaving the church: it is their children never going at all

Have the Christian churches got it at last? Have they understood that it will soon be too late to halt the slow yet relentless decline they have experienced in this country, and on the continent of Europe, for many years? Yes, they are, finally, beginning to face up to reality. For example, the new Pope, Francis, has just published a truly remarkable document, “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel”, in which he asks the Catholic Church to embark upon a fresh chapter of evangelization, and where he describes in great detail how this should be done. And more quietly, but no less insistently, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is engaged in the same task.

Just a word, first, about where one should direct one’s gaze. It is natural to bracket the Pope and the Archbishop together, but so great are the structural differences between the two Churches that this can mislead. In the Roman Catholic Church, everything flows down from the top, whereas in the Church of England authority is widely dispersed. So Popes issue lengthy documents, often of a high quality, in this case an “apostolic exhortation”, and set a new direction. Whereas in the Church of England, archbishops, bishops and the clergy just get on with things. To see what this means in practice, listen to Bishop Stephen Cottrell addressing the Chelmsford Diocesan synod last month. His speech, “Evangelizing Effectively: the next steps”, cannot match the breadth, nor the wonderful biblical language of Pope Francis’s exhortation, but it is directed at the same purpose in a very effective and practical manner.

The Pope first looks with an unforgiving eye at the barriers to missionary ministry that the Church itself erects. In his exhortation, Pope Francis says “I do not want a Church… which… ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” Surprisingly, he rails at the “excessive centralisation” which, rather than proving helpful, “complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach”. He warns that “mere administration can no longer be enough”. Pope Francis despairs of “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small‑mindedness”.

He calls this “A tomb psychology”, which slowly transforms Christians into “mummies in a museum”. And in a thrust that could as well be aimed at the Church of England as well as at the Church of Rome, he notes that in some people we see “an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few.” Ouch!

Instead the Pope dreams of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world. Because he casts care for self-preservation aside, he also emphasises the need to act without “hesitation, reluctance or fear”.

In a passage that will please Anglicans, “Evangelii Gaudium” has high praise for the humble parish, with its church-building, its vicar and its committed lay-people working locally. While certainly not the only institution that evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant flexibility, “it continues to be the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”.

But with regard to missionary endeavour, there is a key difference between the Church of Rome and the Church of England. The Pope’s message is a call to make a fresh start, whereas for the Church of England, a renewed focus on evangelization is a work in progress that was begun about 10 years ago. The English initiative proceeds along two parallel routes. The object is to establish either what are called “fresh expressions” of church or to “plant” new churches.

These new congregations are different in ethos and style from the local church that set them up, because they aim to reach a different group of people. They are created primarily for the benefit of those who are not churchgoers. They may take place in cafes, at home, in a church building that has been re-opened after closure, during the week rather than on Sundays; and sometimes they are led by pioneer priests or by trained youth workers. And this is working. Some three quarters of those who participate had either given up attending church or had never been before.

So re-evangelization is easy if you know what to do? Not at all. It is extremely, dauntingly difficult. The crux of the matter is this. The problem is not adults leaving the church; it is their children not following their example. In short, if the Churches cannot recruit young adults, their decline will go on. But the problem is now understood, it has been measured and complacency has evaporated. In other words, a start has been made.

 

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