The good news at the moment is that small numbers of fresh people are attending our churches, our diocesan safeguarding provision is more robust than it has ever been, and, perhaps best of all, the Anglican Primates gathering in Canterbury has come out with a robust statement against the prejudice faced by gay people.
So, in the last week, we have begun to approach the half dozen relatively new regular attenders at St Michael’s to see how many of them would like to prepare for Confirmation in the summer, I’ve happened to touch on two routine safeguarding activities (doing a standard identity check for one person who visits homes for the elderly and responding to a letter about the diocesan pastoral support provision for those effected by safeguarding concerns), and I have received this:
The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people. The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression.
But I’m not sure that this is the impression which the people of England or Grimsby have been given. The news they have received in the last week is that the number of attenders at Church of England services on a normal Sunday has dropped for the first time below the psychologically important one million, individual cases of sexual abuse in the Church of England continue to surface one by one, and the majority of the Anglican Primates simply can’t abide those churches which support provision for stable same-sex marriage.
Our 'mission listening' has long been picking up (alongside their concern about the injustice of suffering in the world) their sense that churchgoing wouldn’t touch their spiritual needs, that our apparent claims to holiness are hyprocritical, and that our fundamentalism blinds us to the insights of science and humanity today - and I imagine that news of smaller and more elderly congregations, scandals and resistance to equality legislation seems to confirm all this for them.
We know that the age profile of our regular attenders means that in any given period the number of new ones is very unlikely to outnumber the number who die. We know that it is in part the rigour of our present safeguarding work which is bringing some old scandals to light and to judgement. We know that it is precisely the church’s attempt to be aware and creative at the intersection of its tradition and encounters which produces the tensions we find in seeing a shared way forward. Some of these points have all been made on this Blog quite recently – but they wouldn’t appear to be any more than special pleading to most people.