Some say that it partly forms the Body of Christ on earth, and others that it will be dead in twenty years. All we know, is it it called
The blessed Telegraph suggests, in its headline, that the "Ageing Church of England 'will be dead in 20 years'". Before you climb out of your prams, it was not the blessed Telegraph that says it, no - a cleric from the Eastern Flat-lands of England.
Well, Reverend Doctor Patrick Richmond, let us examine this hypothesis of yours.
- Dr Richmond suggests that because our congregations are on average 61 years old, that it is reasonable to suggest they may all be dead in the ground in twenty years. That may be true, but that implies that his view of modern evangelism is less than favourable. The thing is, Doc, that the average age of Christian congregations has always erred towards the ancient - it is just that people start returning to church in their fifties once families and their immediate needs abate. Unless there is a virus that Doc knows about that will wipe us nearly-forties out in the next twenty years too, then I would suggest that congregations are gently self regenerative.
- He cites the drop in stipendiary clergy as another part of his 'perfect storm'. None of the Disciples were paid after all, and while it is true that the church has to become less dependent on its dog-collars, there are still many thousands of people in accredited ministries whom he seems to overlook. Add to this that all Christians have a role in ministry, we can put it another way - the 'perfect storm' exists in his Norfolk teacup. The priesthood may well be dead in the Church of England in twenty years time (actually, no it won't, I still have thirty to serve), but if the Church was ever dependent solely on its priests and not, say, God - then it was always lost.
- That all said, I must congratulate him for his play on words: "2020 apparently is when our congregations start falling through the floor because of natural wastage, that is people dying" - there's a pun in there somewhere. And a grotesque pessimism.
Now this is where I have a problem - and those of you who read this blog regularly (thank you), will know that I become gusset-rotated. I can cope with people of no faith deriding our church. I can even cope with the side-swipes of our press who love to dance on our perceived grave. Where I have a problem is when clerics make statements like this, or other clergy who make statements about being bored at Synod, because they gift to our many detractors the very stuff that they need to undermine us more. Comments in the stories mentioned here have become the playgrounds of the 'all churches should be pulled down' brigade and those who express the 'all believers in gods are nutter and bombers' sentiments (inferred if not in fact stated). Clerics seem to want to do it in the public gaze, and neither aging congregations, declining clergy numbers or the next meteorite could do more damage.
You will also know that I have firm views about churches behaving more as businesses in their business affairs. An aspect of the article that caught my eye was the statement:
The Church was compared to a company “impeccably” managing itself into failure, during exchanges at the General Synod in York.
Whilst I hold the views that I do, I am also clear that the Church is not a business and very often diametrically opposed to one. It typically exists on the good will and efforts of a vast number of un-trained volunteers as a percentage when compared to paid staff, that our 'product' is a fruit of faith and broadly intangible and that every single Head Office Directive falls into the category that would, in the commercial world, see us closed and picked over by venture capitalists in mere weeks. The Church is, by very definition, a sort of anti-business, and despite all else, has survived far worse than this.
Self-criticism is good and it is healthy. Dr Richmond exceeded that. Self-criticism is good and it is healthy, but self-proclaimed self-destruction exceeds that. The Church of England will not be dead in twenty years. Despite the views of the youthful Vicar of Eaton, there are still many of us who expect to be around in thirty and forty years time (God willing). His words are, of course, one of the fashionable sneers we have heard about recently, and to my mind, unhelpful at best, harmful at worst.
I do not apologise one iota for my loyalty to my Church and to my Archbishop. I am, though, desperately sorry that so many seem to consistently seek to climb aboard the bandwagon of church-bashing, synod-bashing, and the old favourite Rowan-bashing. I doubt that God called anyone to that particular ministry.