Recently, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warned that the Church of England was in danger of dying out within a generation. (Synod has responded by “voting to set up a committee” – oh, how Anglican… at the same time, positive that the church is actively looking towards evangelism.)
It seems to me that with this along with the Pilling Report shortly to be published as well as the move towards women bishops, the Church of England stands at something of a crossroads. The church faces the question: what is it that the Church of England is all about?
This is a quote from the article I mentioned above:
Archbishop Sentamu told the Synod: “Compared with evangelism everything else is like rearranging furniture when the house is on fire.
“Tragically too often that is what we are doing – reorganising the structures, arguing over words and phrases, while the people of England are left floundering amid meaningless anxiety and despair.”
I think he’s hit the nail bang on the head. “Rearranging furniture when the house is on fire” – exactly what I think is going on with the Pilling Report and, to a lesser extent, women bishops (see my previous post on last year’s women bishops vote for some more thoughts on that matter).
I believe there are two competing narratives at play here. One is saying, “We’re losing numbers. Quick! – let’s get with the times. Culture is changing, let’s change with it. Let’s bring in women bishops, let’s bring in gay marriage – that will halt the decline and reverse the trend. People will flood back into church if it’s relevant to them.” That’s one narrative, a narrative which the Episcopal Church USA seems to have adopted.
The other narrative is more like this: “We’re losing numbers. Quick! – we need to get back to what the church is all about, preaching the gospel. Offering salvation to sinners: Evangelism and the ministry of God’s word to his world – that’s the only thing which can halt the decline and bring people back into church”. In other words, basically what Archbishop John Sentamu said to General Synod.
Judging by what’s happening to the Episcopal Church, it’s pretty clear that the first route will lead to the Church of England’s ultimate demise. That doesn’t bode well.
But I prefer to see this more positively. I think this is a time for the Church of England to take stock: what is it we’re here for? What is the Church’s mission? The church has Five marks of mission, the first of which is: “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.” I hope and pray that the Church of England will rediscover its identity as an organisation which proclaims the good news of the Kingdom, and any furniture rearranging in the future can take a back seat.