Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Eight impossible things the C of E will never do

Disclaimer: I don't mean any of these literally - and, contrariwise - I know several of them are well underway in some churches. Some have been happening for years - just not necessarily round here. Others are almost inconceivable.

To be clear: this is just a personal tirade. Each of these suggestions is merely meant to point to some aspect of the challenge I think we face. I don't propose to put them into practice (not all of them, anyway). 

1. Walk out of church Sunday

This is especially for those with listed buildings but everyone can play.  Simply leave. (Having, of course, done a good dust and spring clean and checked all electrical appliances are unplugged).

The PCC can resign en mass (leaving a couple of people as residual trustees of any money) and ask the Archdeacon to take over responsibility for the church (copy to the Bishop).

Send a polite letter to the Second Church Estates Commissioner suggesting that the State should take responsibility for the building and telling her which flowerpot the keys are hidden under.

Don't forget, tell the neighbours you'll be away for a while.  And remember to tell the congregation a minimum of one week before it happens. Otherwise people won't know whether they're still supposed to be on the stewarding rota.

2. No congregation should ever own a church

Then hire a meeting place. Find somewhere with decent parking, comfortable seats and above all a cosy feel. Check that coffee and cake are available and that the toilets are clean and comfortable.

If your numbers dwindle move somewhere smaller. When they grow, move somewhere bigger.

In this way you can always be the right size group. You can move to where people are. Leaders can give almost all their attention to the people, the worship and deepening faith - and not to the building. God can be worshipped with minimal distraction. Members can decide what's important and not be overwhelmed by the demands of drains and guttering.

3. Listen to people

I think God listens to each of us. I think the church should too.

At the moment the Church of England pays almost no regard to almost all the laity. The words people use in worship are all scripted. Individuals' experience, priorities, delights and anxieties have no place in such prescribed services.

This relationship is symbolised and realised in the sermon: one person speaks and the rest remain passive. There is no mutuality.

It's not just that the audience have no voice - I would guess it's very rare for a sermoniser even to check what people have heard. The odd hints I occasionally get suggest there can be a considerable and sometimes entertaining gap between what I think I said and what someone else thinks they heard.

And f the church doesn't listen to its members how on earth can it expect to listen to people outside it?

4. Give lay people a full part in the government of the Church

At a larger scale the structure of church government deliberately marginalises the laity. Lay members vote for Deanery Synod Representatives. Deanery Synod Representatives vote for Diocesan and General Synod Representatives. Consequently no-one is accountable to members.

I think it's high time that all members had a vote and a voice. I think representatives should then account to their electorate. It should be easier as there are fewer and fewer of us.

5. and no more processions

Processions embody hierarchy, status and power. They literally set each person in their rank and degree, They mark who's in and who's not. Those who do not process do not count.

I can see some justifications for processions - but not a Christian one (Aquinas notwithstanding).

More significantly, processions are archaic: relics of a social ordering increasingly destroyed by digitisation.

6. Throw out the clutter

Church vestries are renowned for the clutter they accumulate. No-one's quite sure who put the stone gargoyle in the corner, or whether the books belong to the vicar, or whether you need a faculty to throw away unused and mildewed cassocks, or who promised to repair the torn linen. So it all just silts up.

Throw it away (having, of course, first found out about the faculty bit). Throw out the remaining pews, redundant hymn books, nineteenth century robes and ideas. Make space in the vestry and in prayer, give God a bit of room and, when Jesus comes round for a coffee, make sure the place is bright, warm and comfortable.

And, while we're about it, don't be half hearted with legislative reform. Piecemeal tinkering will only end up with pieces all over the floor. Decide the key principles that church governance must and should enact. Throw away everything else.

7. Account for the right things

I know we need to count numbers and money. They are important in themselves (though always, of course, with lots of caveats).

But I think we also need to count what a church gives away. Faith is not something we have but something to be given away. God does not bless us so that we can hoard it, but so that we can be a blessing to others. Jesus did not tell his disciples to guard his teachings carefully - he sent them out to share with all and sundry.

I think counting what a church gives - money, time, energy, facilities - may also be a measure of its compassion and faithfulness.

8. and no more talking heads videos

This is not the way to reform or renew anything:

 Let's have a bit of life, imagination, passion, dynamism, colour, indignation, vision, vitality. This is just dull.


    1. I think many rural congregations, PCCs and perhaps even priests are at the point of trying out one or more of the above. Shall we have a competition with a prize for anyone who manages the lot?

      1. Now, how shall we organize the competition?

        Should there be points awarded for progress? Additional prizes for the most imaginative responses to the challenge?

        And who would judge?

        We could, more practically perhaps - and certainly cheaper - organize e-rosettes (perhaps in different colours for different classes of initiative) for effort, attainment and imagination.

    2. In ways your list applies to the Episcopal Church in the US, too. Ouch! about the church building and what we spend to maintain our 171 year old church, which, if abandoned, would fall into the hands the diocese which holds the building in trust for the national church. It's on the National Register, but I'm not sure what that means for purposes of disposal of the building, which is never mentioned in the parish. Our governance is a bit more democratic than the CoE, but bishops never cease their efforts to wrench control from laity and clergy.

      You made me laugh when you spoke of what you preach and what people seem to hear.

    3. I think a Walk Out or Walk About (?) Sunday might really be something to institute both in the CoE and TEC.
      Love these ideas, Paul. O yes, what people hear from my sermons always startles me. But I leave that up to the Holy One.


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