Thinking Anglicans

Faith in Research Conference 2013

The Faith in Research Conference 2013 took place on 20 June. This is one in a series of annual conferences organised by the Research & Statistics Department, Church House and the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology & Practical Theology.

The programme for the conference can be found here (PDF).

The slides used by Professor Linda Woodhead in her keynote presentation are available here as a PowerPoint file. She described these on Twitter thus:

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Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

I presume that the CofE will ignore that presentation. What it shows is that demographically it’s downhill all the way from here, unless it believes that current 18–24 year olds will mysteriously become homophobic and sexist as they get older. As the CofE leadership is firmly fixed on going down with the ship on same-sex marriage, there is simply no way that this ends well. Scenario 1: Those with a sense of preservation ask the question “Is same-sex marriage such an existential threat to the church that simply accepting it will cause us a problem?” (to which the answer is… Read more »

Fr Alan-Bury
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Fr Alan-Bury

I don’t see this going down well with the Catholic Bishops Conference either.

Stuart, Devon
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Stuart, Devon

Interested Observer, you are missing the far more probable:

Scenario 3: CofE will do what it almost always does, change to adopt the majority position, just a bit slower than civil society. We will have women bishops relatively soon now, ++York is already talking about same sex blessings, and as the current bench of bishops holding the opinions of their generation retire and are replaced with younger ones with the opinions of theirs, the position will continue to evolve.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Stuart, your comment reminds me of Scenario 4: CoE will have women bishops soon but everyone who feels like it will be entitled to say that they’re not actually validly ordained and the church as a whole will not be valuing women’s ministry to the same extent as male ministry. Those who want to may bless same sex marriage but it will be optional and it will continue to be acceptable to preach against gay people from the pulpits, so the church as a whole will not be a welcoming place for lgbt people. The fiction that equality has been… Read more »

badman
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badman

Stuart, I think your Scenario 3 is the same as Interested Observer’s Scenario 1.

But I think the outcome is more likely: most people under 50 think it’s vile, Church shrinks dramatically and either dies or has to reinvent itself entirely, from a much diminished base.

There is a problem, and it is urgent.

Laurence
Guest
Laurence

The Church of England has even managed to lose some (of us) in our sixties !

How ever did they manage that ?

Laurence
Guest
Laurence

If ~Alan-bury means RC bishops why not say so ?

Cardinal O’Brien has fallen silent all of a sudden ?

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Cardinal O’Brien has resigned. He was a member of The [Roman Catholic] Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.
http://www.bpsconfscot.com/

But I suspect the reference was to the [Roman] Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales, http://www.cbcew.org.uk/about.html

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

Irrespective of one’s religious affiliation, the Church of England has been a bedrock of English culture and civilisation for centuries. It has usually ended up on the right side in moral debates, even if it didn’t start out there. Its network of parish churches, vicars and congregations is a vital part of our civil society. Its strength has been in its ability to compromise, which historically avoided it getting marginalised over issues like divorce, contraception, homosexuality or abortion. It has steadfastly avoided becoming a warrior in the culture wars, which have largely remained in the US. The Church of England’s… Read more »

Tristan
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Tristan

But surely we are called to challenge the ways of the world?

If the survey said that 99% of people didn’t believe in God, would we say that we were wrong? If 99% said that they believed in the rightness of polygamy, would we say, ‘Gosh, looks like we we wrong all along!’

Surely part of the Christian life is that we are called out of the ways of the world, yet remain within the world. Aren’t we told to “not conform to the pattern of this world”? (Rom 12)

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

A consequence of 30 years of “wedge issues” and culture war in the USA is a rapidly secularizing America. The fastest growing single religious identification in the USA is “none of the above.” Churches from right to left are losing members. While the right loves to point out the decline in membership in the Episcopal Church over the past 50 years, they have their own serious retention problems. Those right wing power houses of the Southern Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church are both suffering severe membership losses. There are now as many ex-Catholics as Catholics in the USA.… Read more »

Veuster
Guest
Veuster

> I don’t see this going down well with the Catholic Bishops Conference either.

To my jaundiced eye, a difference between RCs and members of the CofE is that members of the CofE who disagree with their Church’s teachings try to get those teachings changed, whereas RCs who disagree with their Church’s teachings bypass the teachings as if they were ancient monuments and are content to live in disagreement with their own Church about e.g. same sex marriage and women clergy.

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

“But surely we are called to challenge the ways of the world?”

Within my lifetime, it was the way of the world to regard women legally as chattel, and to regard gays and lesbians as criminal and ill, and to forcibly confine and “medicate” them by court order.

JCF
Guest
JCF

Tristan, my take: we’re called to live Gospel values, conforming ourselves to the model of Jesus Christ.

Being in the Church (or its leadership) is *no guarantee* of those Gospel values (“Not everyone who cries ‘Lord, Lord'”). Nor is NOT being in Church (“the world”) a guarantee of being anti-thetical to Gospel values.

Francis
Guest
Francis

Tristan, I think that a relatively simple moral rule is available to us. We are called to be counter-cultural when it means being more just, more merciful, more sympathetic, more imaginative than the world; not when it means being less so.

The Rev'd Mervyn Noote
Guest
The Rev'd Mervyn Noote

If Prof Woodhead’s presentation is unwelcome – not sure why it should be – then we should throw in the towel. For then we would not only be an institution in deep trouble, but we would be in denial about that, and hostile to people who deal in reality. I share her analysis of the damage caused by our refusal to accept that women are equal to men and gay marriages as valid as straight ones, but it can’t be the whole story of the Church’s demographic collapse. Liberal MOTR or Catholic parishes have not exactly packed them in over… Read more »

J Drever
Guest
J Drever

Two slides seem to me to be most significant: (i) slide 8, which indicates that about 60% of the young have no religious belief; and (ii) slide 21 which indicates that 58% have no view about whether the Church is a good or bad institution (in other words, they couldn’t care less). My experience of worshiping at well over a thousand churches in south-east England is that Prof. Woodhead’s analysis is, if anything, too flattering to the Church. The whole institution is in absolute run-off except in a very few places, and a huge percentage of the church-going population will… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

Conservatives are all about the church being counter-cultural, UNLESS it’s conservative culture that’s countered. Some word I’m reminded of – hypnogogy, hypnotic? Something beginning “hyp,” anyway.

The truth is “the culture” has moved toward God while “the church” stood still, protesting the change of the world it has so willingly served since Constantine. The churches are not the leaders in marching to God, but the straggling, protesting, ineffectual rearguard.

Anne
Guest
Anne

While I think the problems in this presentation look very alarming in their analysis of the present constitution of the Church, I am not sure that the figures tell us quite as much about the future as some comments here seem to suggest. The fact that 60% of young people don’t have a religious faith and that 58% of them couldn’t care less doesn’t really predict what the church will be like in 20 or 30 years time. 40 years ago, when I was one of a vanishingly tiny number of young people in my own, quite typical I think,… Read more »

John
Guest
John

The problem is existential: fewer and fewer people believe that Christianity (or any religion) makes true claims about any sort of reality. Liberals deceive themselves when they think that the problem lies with attitudes to women or gays. It’s important to get those things fixed, of course. The woman one is essentially won; the gay one has some way to go. Thereafter (and in the case of the women one right now), existing Christians should agree to sink their differences and apply their minds to the existential problem. Also problematic: because many Christians do not have minds, or if they… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Anne, I think one big difference is that the teens and twens of 30,40 years ago knew what they were coming to. They had enough understanding of the Christian story and of what went on in church to make church a credible option when they needed to change or broaden their lives. But for most of today’s young people Christianity and what goes on inside a church is not familiar and approachable. It’s like me walking past a mosque or a Hindu temple – with very little comprehension of what would happen if I actually went there with any level… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

The alternative, John, is to recognise that it’s not about church at all, it’s about bringing people to God. And we don’t actually need the CoE for that, nor our worship structures etc. There are thriving existential faith conversations going on all around us in society. We can choose to be part of them. What we cannot do is sit back and tinker at the edges thinking that if we only do this or that people will come to a formalised way of encountering the living God mediated by an institution. It works for us – it definitely is not… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Anne, you have hit the nail on the head, so thank you for endorsing what I am coming to believe too. That the problem isn’t actually the future at all, it’s the present. A friend of mine e-mailed me the following, alleged to have been said by two Russians:- ‘The church has only old women in it, it will be gone within twenty years’. To which the reply was :- but there is a constant supply of old ladies. Can we please stop worrying about the future and how we can get bums on seats, and preferably young bums. There… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“…a national tragedy. It would drag down with it a huge number of schools…” Interested Observer

It may say ‘Church of England’ (or, for that matter, ‘Roman Catholic’) on the sign outside, but these are state schools, staffed by state-salaried teachers. They would carry on, pretty much as before, only without the discriminatory faith-based entrance criteria.

Anne
Guest
Anne

I appreciate your point, Erika, but my experience in ministry is that the teens and twenties I come into contact with through my ministry are actually more, not less interested than past generations who had a church-influenced upbringing. They might be teachers or TAs in schools, people investigating marriage, those I fall into conversation with out and about, or even the other women at my belly-dancing class! Because they have little or no background in the church, they are fascinated by it, and haven’t suffered the “inoculation” effect earlier generations had. Provided that we are actually out and about being… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“There is no evidence that young people will become the older members of the congregation. Observation and conversation teaches that many if not most older people have either come back to church attendance or have come to it for the first time, for all the reasons you outline.” I think that is rather naive. A couple of generations ago (ie, current 50 year olds born 1960, who might be on the cusp of becoming the “old ladies”) the vast majority of the British population were raised in a nominally Christian environment. Schools would have had assemblies, often daily, which looked… Read more »

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

I want to second Erika Baker’s comments and say that in my experience here across the Atlantic, most of what many people know about Christianity is from the media and street preachers. They are largely ignorant of the central narrative of the whole faith. Concepts like Grace, Faith, Incarnation, Resurrection, let alone the Trinity, are met with complete incomprehension. Even people who grew up in Christian traditions are completely ignorant of enormous sections of the religion. For example, my students, most of whom are from Roman Catholic and evangelical backgrounds, have never heard of the Reformation, Martin Luther, or the… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Anne,
that is precisely what I would say too. We cannot expect people to turn up at church, we have to have faith conversations with them outside church.

Certainly, the teenagers I come into contact with (nothing structured, just friends of my girls), are usually completely baffled about church. Yes, they’re vaguely interested, but the questions are so basic “so what do you do in there, pray and that?” that show a completely different starting point.

Going out and talking to people – absolutely!
Expecting that they will just drift into church when they’re a bit older – no.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Clearly the zeitgeist has been a move to secularization. Sociologists have told me that the Holocaust accelerated that in Europe. It’s happening here in the US, just slower. The call is to live with integrity. Don’t care for the poor because it looks good to the masses, do it because Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours, be they homeless, female, gay, or straight. Remember after that commandment, some asked “who is my neighbor” and Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritans. Samaritans were hated by the Judeans. Replace Samaritan with LGBT person or woman, and where does that… Read more »

Una Kroll
Guest

Just want to support what Erika Baker said. I am 87 years old and eager to see small Christian communities flourishing with or without the help of sectarian institutions. Committed to this future flourishing and belong to at least three of such groups who meet for prayer, worship, and support in trying to live Gospel lives. Age doesn;t matter. Attitude does. Changes are essential. God goes ahead of us and leaves the fossils to remind us of past glories of creation.

The Rev'd Mervyn Noote
Guest
The Rev'd Mervyn Noote

Our future contains a number of possible trajectories. The best is that we pull out of the current tail-spin with significant, but manageable, loss of congregations yet still able to fulfil our vocation as a ‘Church both national and Catholic in character’ (would that we had listened to Temple back in the late 1910s…) The worst is disestablishment and reduction to a rump sect which would at best split into two and perhaps splinter entirely. Those who think that is a positive on spurious liberal grounds should consider that the vote of the Lords Spiritual which most annoyed the government… Read more »

Feria
Guest
Feria

Linda Woodhead: ‘I show that there’s a ‘values gap’ between where most Anglicans are and where the Church is’ It rather depends how you define your terms. One could, alternatively, say that the Church is, by definition, in the place where Linda’s data reveal most self-defined Anglicans are. Then what Linda has really showed is that there’s a values gap between where the Church is and where most of the Episcopacy and General Synod are. As for the scenarios: if the (Anglican) people of England decide (rightly) that the homophobia and sexism extant in some sections of the executive part… Read more »

J Drever
Guest
J Drever

When I have asked clergy about the absence of young people (and in many churches a “young” person is often well into middle age), I have been told time and again that, yes, there are no young people, as such, but then they will drift back when they have children or as their time runs out. Yet when I ask whether there are as many youngish parents now as there were in, say, the 1980s, they are forced to admit that the idea of a return to the Church is becoming a fiction. Just look, for instance, at the baptismal… Read more »

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

An interesting conversation on Tuesday evening with a group of highly intelligent PhD students who were discussing the possibility of remaining silent for twelve hours without their tablets or mobile phones. It was considered impossible.

The idea of a silent retreat for several days without recourse to electronica was, to them, somewhat interesting “what do you do?”, and clearly very challenging “So you let all the noise in your head stop?”.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

In 1917 the new Soviet Union began a rigorous policy of state atheism,trying to eliminate all religion. It closed churches, persecuted clerics and forbade any sort of proselytizing. The main cathedral in Moscow was dynamited. For 70 years religion was banished from the public sphere and from as much of private life as the state could reach. Materialism dominated. With the downfall of atheistic communism religion revived. Now I don’t like the craven attitude the Orthodox Church has (and has always had) towards the state and I don’t like its nasty manifestations in intolence. But Christianity didn’t die after seventy… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I agree with most of J Drever’s analysis but I do not think that young people have no sense of the numinous. There has recently been a (from our side scathing) conversation about the number of people describing themselves as spiritual but not religious. The yearning is there, the sense of “something more, something deeper” is there, the conversations are happening. But people do not believe that the answer to their experience of that something can be found in church or in any organised religion with its set of credal statements and beliefs and its theological set-in-stone interpretations of that… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

“The rosy scenario envisaged by Anne and Richard Ashby is unlikely to come to pass:” I don’t think that I or Richard were painting a “rosy scenario”. Speaking for myself I was simply challenging the rather formless reaction of panic that always seems to greet reports of church decline, which usually result in a lot of hand-wringing and demands that clergy step up several gears as if furious evangelistic activity would cure the “problem”. We had the Decade of Evangelism, during which time the church declined even faster than it had done previously. We have had numerous initiatives since –… Read more »

magistra
Guest

One of the “values gaps” that hasn’t been mentioned in the discussion so far is euthanasia and assisted suicide. Here, I think the official church’s opposition to assisted suicide is right, but it has been hopeless at expressing its concerns in a manner that makes sense to secular society. It really ought to be talking more about the dangers of a society which increasingly denegrates and demonizes people with disabilities and which at the same time is haoppy with the idea that people who no longer feel their life has value should be helped to commit suicide. But instead, the… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Magistra, I read Anne’s long post and then immediately yours. And what struck me is that one of the things I perceive to be wrong about church is that it thinks it has to have official positions on moral questions and campaign for them. Anne’s church is wonderful, welcoming, open and offering people a Christian framework in which to make their own moral choices. There are a large number of Christians who support euthanasia and assisted suicide for very good reasons. What I want from church is to help me to put moral dilemmas into a God focused framework without… Read more »

FrAlan-Bury
Guest
FrAlan-Bury

I see The Times has caught up with this story …. today.

magistra
Guest

Erika,

I’m genuinely confused by the difference you see between “moral questions” and social justice/equality. What is social justice and equality except a moral issue? Would you be content if people listened to what the church said about not being racist or not discriminating against women or not oppressing the poor and then decided that actually, they’d made their own mind up and they were going to ignore equality? Or are you trying to make some other distinction between moral decisions that should be left to the individual and moral decisions that should influence a society’s laws?

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

I see that the ABC has issued a call for a Church ”revolution’ (see report above) yet immediately descends into churchy language by saying that we are all ‘sinners’. Quite frankly if that is the message we have to share then the cause is hopeless. We have to get away from this sort of self flagelation, it’s unattractve, it puts off people and it means nothing for most of us.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Magistra, yes, I think I do distinguish. If I try to work it out as I write… I want to say that the goal ought to be a more moral world. I suppose you could say that my yardstick would be “by their fruit….” The fruit of inequality are bad, and that includes the fruit of oppressing black people, lgbt people and women. But other moral questions aren’t so clear cut. Divorce was (is?) one of those not so clear cut questions and I am tempted to say that there is no universal right or wrong, the truth lies in… Read more »

J Drever
Guest
J Drever

I was much moved by Anne’s last post. I completely agree with her about the importance of the Church being out in the parish itself as well as being within the building. One of the major failings of recent decades has been the tendency of certain clergy to turn away from engagement with the wider community and to separate (at least within their own minds) the Church community from the whole community – though there have been times in the distant past when both communities were synonymous. Yet, it is surely the responsibility of the national Church to administer to… Read more »