Rad­i­cal re­form pro­gramme for the Church

The Church of England - - LEADER & COMMENT -

The Church of Eng­land is in the head­lines for two rather dif­fer­ent rea­sons. The first, re­ported by The Guardian, is that the new synod is to ta­ble a rad­i­cal pro­gramme of ‘Re­form and Re­newal’ to make the Church ‘fit for pur­pose’ in the 21st Cen­tury, ini­ti­ated by Arch­bishop Welby. There is a ‘de­mo­graphic time bomb’, with a huge dearth of young mem­bers that will be ter­mi­nal for the Church, and the pro­gramme is to ad­dress this in terms of train­ing bish­ops as MBA-style man­agers, fast track­ing ‘game chang­ers’ for pro­mo­tion, and redi­rect­ing cash to dio­ce­ses that are us­ing it well, no­tably away from the ru­ral ar­eas.

The Guardian cited fears that this pro­gramme was a com­bi­na­tion of busi­ness tech­niques wed­ded to the Holy Trin­ity, Brompton, style of pre­sent­ing and teach­ing the Gospel. So­ci­ol­o­gist of Re­li­gion Linda Wood­head of Lan­caster Univer­sity doubted that this ap­proach would en­able the Church to re­gain its so­cial breadth, and would rather turn it into a sect-type church. In­stead, it needs, says Wood­head, to be­come fully ‘in­clu­sive’ – pre­sum­ably in the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect mode of that term - and in­creas­ing lay and com­mu­nity in­volve­ment, with multi-func­tional use of church build­ings – per­haps a Tesco at the back of Bath Abbey for ex­am­ple? She re­jects a con­ver­sion­ist model of church in favour of a form of cul­tural Chris­tian­ity. The new Dean of Christchurch, Ox­ford, re­put­edly the high­est paid dig­ni­tary in the Church of Eng­land, thinks that the pro­gramme could do more harm than good to a very com­plex his­toric struc­ture, and has failed to con­sult with the­olo­gians about the na­ture of the mod­erni­sa­tion. To both th­ese so­ci­o­log­i­cal crit­ics the pro­gramme seems to smack of evan­gel­i­cal func­tion­al­ism.

The sec­ond rea­son the Church is in the news is that its ef­fort to get the Lord’s Prayer, in video form, into cine­mas has failed, as they think it of­fends pol­icy on po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious pro­pa­ganda. This re­jec­tion has pro­duced far bet­ter public­ity than could have been hoped for, and maybe a YouTube pre­sen­ta­tion might go ‘vi­ral’? The Lord’s Prayer is surely a won­der­ful gift from Je­sus him­self to the church and to the world, and other faith groups would surely ben­e­fit from it, as well as our sec­u­lar neigh­bours and their chil­dren. This was a good ini­tia­tive, and we must ask for more sim­ple pro­jec­tions of the Je­sus way from the church cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion: this kind of sim­ple mes­sage is ex­actly what has been miss­ing from the na­tional level of the church.

Some decades ago the Catholic Truth So­ci­ety is­sued a small plas­tic-backed book­let ‘The Thoughts of Je­sus Christ’, to match ‘The Thoughts of Chair­man Mao’, or ‘The lit­tle red book’, fash­ion­able at the time. Some way of get­ting gospels and epis­tles out into su­per­mar­kets and so­cial me­dia would be an­other sim­ple and vi­tal ini­tia­tive in our ‘post-Chris­tian’ so­ci­ety, now ig­no­rant of Je­sus. Busi­ness mod­els and so­ci­o­log­i­cal cul­tural re­li­gion are both false path­ways. Faith­ful­ness to Je­sus Christ is our pri­mary task, and we can leave the Spirit to im­ple­ment the re­sponse.

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