Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Imagining the future

The Church of England could soon be ‘no longer functionally extant at all’. It is a phrase used at this month’s meeting of the General Synod which has briefly caught the attention of some of the media, including those hostile to what we are doing.

It isn’t an original thought, any more than it was in the form in which it appeared in almost the first post on this Blog three years ago:

The demography of our congregations is such that the presence of those who were formed as present and future members of the Church of England in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s has masked the startlingly smaller number so formed in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, but as the former begin to die a huge gap is exposed... the numbers of those committed will simply not be able to sustain anything like our present provision of buildings or stipendiary ministry.

That early post (and quite a few others over the last three years) was really about the way in which people do not want to begin putting alternative plans in place until we are face-to-face with the non-viability of our present structures, so it is also consistent that the First Estates Commissioner responded to the remark by saying ‘I wish all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this’ and added ‘I have seen large companies perfectly and impeccably manage themselves into failure’.

Interestingly, our Area Bishop’s initiatives around designating a Minister for Grimsby, settling the nature of the appointment of a new priest and deacons based there, and initiating a review of ministry around it, is precisely an attempt to put new structures in place well ahead of any collapse. I’m not sure that many of those who received his letter about some of this in April spotted that this appears to be exactly what he meant when he wrote:

Much of what we are exploring through appointments is an attempt to establish patterns of ministry and leadership which will serve us for the future. It is an inexact art, especially when we may feel that at the moment we don’t need them. It is a difficult one to get right and, as so often, our reaction to novelty depends how far into the future we are trying to imagine.

There are already at least some urban estates and some groups of rural villages where the claim that the Church of England is present in every community is no longer true in terms of a church building used for regular worship and in terms of the residence of lay people (let alone a clergyperson) committed to such worship and to service of neighbour. The ‘no longer functionally extant at all’ phrase identifies these as just the first cracks opening up. The ‘how far into the future we are trying to imagine’ phrase invites us not simply to allow market forces to dictate where and what sort of surviving functioning Anglicanism will follow.

Having (at the beginning of this academic year) stepped aside from roles which attempted and failed to make a difference in this sort of area locally, it is also interesting (at the end of this academic year)to find how helpless I feel in being unable to see the immediate future let alone engage in this longer term re-imagining process: the Area Bishop hasn’t yet taken us into his confidence about the terms of reference for or the potential for our involvement in the review of ministry locally he proposes; it was only at the beginning of this month that the Archdeacon was able to provide us with the diocese’s official statement of the 2010 financial outcome for our immediate area, and she hasn’t yet been able to respond to questions this raises for our budget for 2011 let alone beyond; the newly appointed Area Dean has declined the invitation to an early meeting with our PCC, perhaps understandably wanting to get his feet under the table first; and, although I believe the open Mission Forum for the two local deaneries has continued to meet through the year, an attentive local parish priest hasn’t heard anything about its meetings dates, topics, suggestions or conclusions.

The picture is another taken at Normanby Hall when there again last week with a school.

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