Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Church of England's search for salvation

Robert McCrum writes in The Observer today about The Church of England’s search for salvation. “The Church of England is in crisis. Its position on women bishops and gay marriage has alienated much of society. Robert McCrum visits its parishes and asks if the future lies with those it has spurned.”

To accompany the article, photographer Karen Robinson presents The Church of England today - in pictures.

Posted by Peter Owen on Sunday, 21 July 2013 at 1:44pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

Enjoyed both the article and the photos.
Churches, like nations, are usually much better than their leadership. It is heartening to see the Gospel proclaimed and lived out on the parish level with such dedication in the face of so many difficulties despite the curial intrigues at the top.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Sunday, 21 July 2013 at 9:45pm BST

My oldest friend from my high school days attends St. Mary's Maidenhead. It is a strongly evangelical church; it has five services on Sundays, and the two main morning services, at 9.15 and 11.00, are full.

I've visited the church on Sunday mornings, and have experienced lively and attractive worship, good contemporary music (not really worship band style, although I understand in the evening it's more that way), expository preaching, and a strong children's ministry. When the children leave for their groups, it looks to me like fully a third of the church has gone out!

According to Robert McCrum, this is the portion of the Church of England that has alienated the population and written its own epitaph. That's definitely not the impression I got when I visited there. The place was literally bursting at the seams (they had to go to two services, 9.15 and 11.00, because they no longer had room for everyone at one service).

It looks to me like Robert McCrum started with a thesis and then went out looking for parishes that would confirm it for him.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Sunday, 21 July 2013 at 11:53pm BST

But Tim what is the point of propagating fundamentalism, obscurantism and an irrational approach to life on this scale ?

I would rather they stayed home and read,or watched Sunday politics and ethics programs - or listened to the Archers.

Posted by: Laurence on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 12:38am BST

Very interesting article by Robert McCrum. A few thoughts:

"There's no singing because no one knows the music. " Simple solution there - include the music with the texts of the hymns! When we worship in the UK, about half of the music seems to be shared tradition, but I don't know half. I pick it up by the 2nd verse, but I'm musically trained. It seems to me that this would be problematic for visiting non Anglicans and newcomers to the church, in addition to foreigners like me. Publish a proper hymnal.

It is also heartening to see parishes thriving outside of the strained leadership. Of course, it's a lot of women doing the heavy lifting. I would suspect that plenty of LGBT persons are helping in that. Maybe someday the CoE leadership will catch up to its laity.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 12:51am BST

But McCrum's 2 does not make your 1. Statistics?

Posted by: clairejxx on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 5:58am BST

The problem, Tim, is that it's hard to assess the health of an organisation by looking at one branch. Political parties know this only too well. Had you gone to a meeting of a constituency Labour party in the thrall of Militant, or a Conservative branch during the peak of their internal fights about Europe, you would have seen success by some standards: lots of enthusiastic, committed members who were keen to attend even the most trivial agenda item. Both parties were, at the time, utterly unelectable and, perhaps as importantly, haemorrhaging members.

Any branch which has a strong ideological base and has a large enough pool of potential members to draw from will be able to succeed. The question is whether packing out that branch for five meetings a day is a net benefit to the organisation at large.

Undeniably, individual churches which are conservative evangelicals are able to attract a large audience. There is a small portion of our society which believes that homosexuality, abortion, women in positions of power and evolution are bad, while speaking in tongues, healing and biblical inerrancy are good. Choose a large enough city, reach out with your flyers and you'll get a crowd (see also "nationalise the means of production!" and "out of Europe NOW!")

However, the side-effect of this may (and note, I say may: I've never seen convincing studies one way or the other) be to make a lot of people who might, under the right circumstances, go to a mainstream church instead assume that all Christianity is like this. The price paid for packing out one church with people who have strong views may be the loss of rather more people across the whole organisation. That's pretty much the definition of a cult, not an established church.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 7:26am BST

Interested Observer, the fact that people assume all churches in a denomination are the same works both ways. A person walking into the Episcopal church here will soon realize they've walked into the Sunday morning country club and if they aren't rich, aren't welcome. Therefore all Episcopal churches are rich white enclaves for the powerful, etc. Or when the PB said that TEC is small because Episcopal women are better educated and have only one child, that translated to some, "If you don't have a master's degree or you have three kids, you aren't welcome."

I was recently reminded of Paul's answer to those who would eat meat offered to idols and those who wouldn't and the part of the story everyone forgets; he tells both sides not to despise the others, and not to hinder them, but to love them. Unfortunately, neither side is doing that in the current climate.

Posted by: Chris H. on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 12:54pm BST

In the USA, it is common for large evangelical churches to scoop up legions of people like a front-end loader; for example, "mega churches" with thousands of people attending every Sunday in a church building the size of sports arena, with Christian rock bands and an abundance of specialty groups and services for members. These places emphasize a "personal" experience of Jesus on an industrial scale together with heavy doses of Prosperity Gospel and motivational speaking.
Those same churches also have serious retention problems, leaking members out the back door as fast as they come in the front door, especially as these churches become more and more identified with right wing politics, and become themselves major political players with their numbers and wealth.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 1:31pm BST

Tim is right: McCrum writes "on the ground, in the shires and cities, it seems to be gay clerics and women priests who are keeping the Church of England alive, and in touch with society, from day to day" and then interviews gay and female priests and nobody else. Well knock me down with a thurible.

Interested Observer - do you mean that any church with 5 packed services is simply doing a good marketing job to attract an audience? I'm sure liberal and Anglo-Catholic churches are just as good at appealing to their type of people as evangelical churches are. Sadly there's a general assumption in the CofE that if your church is growing and thriving there must be something wrong with it.

And 'that branch' is likely to be the one paying via parish share for clergy in struggling parishes, producing more ordinands and future leaders etc., so yes it does benefit the organisation at large. Every part of the church makes a contribution, so you're right, we shouldn't just look at one branch. But neither should we play 'my branch is better than your branch.'

Posted by: David Keen on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 3:18pm BST

"A person walking into the Episcopal church here will soon realize they've walked into the Sunday morning country club "

That might be a problem in a country (I'm guessing the US) where people might walk into a church on a Sunday morning at random. In the UK, they aren't getting that far: it would be interesting to see some numbers for "people going to church who previously didn't", but my guess is that it's very small. And therefore what matters is not what happens inside the church putting people off who arrive, it's what stops them from coming in to start with.

"I'm sure liberal and Anglo-Catholic churches are just as good at appealing to their type of people as evangelical churches are"

But the problem is that people who go to fundamentalist churches are in play: an evangelical CofE church might be able to market itself to people attending a fringe church in a school hall, but who would quite like to go to a "real" church. The "their type of people" for liberal churches have left the church completely, and therefore the task is not getting people into a different meeting on a Sunday morning, but getting them out of Starbucks.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 7:42pm BST

...or getting the congregation out of the church and into Starbucks too. If they're not coming to us, we need to go to them.

Posted by: David Keen on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 11:27pm BST

FD Blanchard said, 'In the USA, it is common for large evangelical churches to scoop up legions of people like a front-end loader; for example, "mega churches" with thousands of people attending every Sunday in a church building the size of sports arena, with Christian rock bands and an abundance of specialty groups and services for members. These places emphasize a "personal" experience of Jesus on an industrial scale together with heavy doses of Prosperity Gospel and motivational speaking.'

Not quite sure what that's got to do with St. Mary's Maidenhead - or with most evangelical Anglican churches in the UK for that matter.

The accusation of individualism also tends to leave out things like TEARfund, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, International Justice Mission, Evangelicals for Social Action, etc. etc.

In fact, there's an awful lot of caricaturing of evangelical Anglicanism ('fundamentalist...', i.e. related to people who fly aircraft into tall buildings in acts of mass murder) going on here.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 2:45am BST

"and note, I say may: I've never seen convincing studies one way or the other" Interested Observer.

Well, you are unlikely to find any convincing studies, as the absence of adequate statistics, and the difficulties of consistent definitions make it very difficult to convince those who are already convinced one way or the other. But I have my own theory.

There is a finite proportion of the population, which I estimate somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the total, who yearn for clear answers, firm leadership, and an approach to religion that says, "This is the way, walk ye in it". Among that part of the population, the evangelicals do pretty well, and once they are doing well, they are likely to attract others from that significant, but still a minority portion of the population.

But there are two problem. First, as FD Blanchard correctly points out, such churches have huge retention problems, as their followers find themselves disagreeing with some aspect of what is on offer. But second, and more importantly, this type of approach is, and always will be, highly unattractive to the remaining 2/3 to 3/4 of the population. So even if a church in, say Maidenhead is doing extremely well, it is only drawing from part of the population, and it would not work for the other churches in Maidenhead to follow the same formula. Evangelical churches that do very well are often growing at the expense of other evangelical churches.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 3:08am BST

"and therefore the task is not getting people into a different meeting on a Sunday morning, but getting them out of Starbucks."

When, in fact, many of them are taking kids to football practice, swimming clubs, concert rehearsals or are enjoying the one morning they get with their partner over a relaxed family breakfast.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 9:34am BST

and lets face it church going is still related to social class in England. I expect all the churches are doing quite well in Maidenhead..you would expect that. just as they do in Chiswick where I served for 9 years ( in fact they all seem to be doing even better there 15 yrs on).How many of the white working class especially under 30 have anything to do with the church at all now? Yet more did 50 years ago....Church growth in London owes a lot to immigration I suspect...how are things in Co Durham? Regional and social factors remain highly significant im sure.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 11:19am BST

Robert McCrum's article, concentrating or ministry in mostly rural England, is heartening - in its perception of the value of the ministry of wiomen and gays in the Church in country areas. Most people there are more concerned about how the Church might help them in the day to day mundane practicalities of dealing with important issues iof life and death; than they are about who actually provides such ministry.

This, surely, is the essence of how the Church of England ought to be carrying out its mission to its own people - rather than settling for debate about the gender or sexuality of those whom God calls to perform the ministry. Whom God calls, God eqips, surely!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 12:36pm BST

"And 'that branch' is likely to be the one paying via parish share for clergy in struggling parishes, producing more ordinands and future leaders etc., so yes it does benefit the organisation at large." David Keen

Does that account for the large, conservative evangelical churches that withhold their parish share; in my own diocese of Southwark, for example?

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 2:30pm BST

For the record, TEC churches in general, do not look like the "country club." Some do of course, especially those located near country clubs! Generally, the membership looks a lot like CoE, typically reflecting the population of the region. Most urban Episcopal Churches are a lot more casual in dress than either CoE or the country club churches. A fact that got me "in trouble" once, and is worth reflecting on in the context of whether the CoE is welcoming or not.

My experiences worshipping in the UK have been generally very welcoming. But there was the usher at a Cathedral who approached me and said "I'm sorry, no tourists until ..." It was raining and so I was wearing a waterproof appropriate for hiking as I simply can't travel with every piece of "appropriate" clothing. He was fine when I told him that I was there to worship. But it was an assumption based exclusively on my dress. I wasn't exactly taking pictures or gawking at the architecture. The energy of the man might well have chased off a shy person, or a newcomer wanting to give it a go.

That usher is not representative of my experience in England, however, if that had been my only experience, it would definitely have colored my view.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 5:01pm BST

I can't help but compare my one cathedral experience in England -- St. Paul's in London -- with experiences in major Italian churches. The tourists officially were supposed to be out of St. Paul's by evensong. Instead, they packed the nave and listened quietly as the choir sang the service. No one tried to make them leave or suggested that they should. Everyone enjoyed divine service together, and all left together when the cathedral closed for the day.
In Italy, the priests chase the tourists out like flocks of pigeons before Mass. I once watched a Dominican priest in Santa Maria Novella in Florence interrupt Mass just to toss out a tourist unobtrusively inspecting a chapel out of sight from the worshippers.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 2:20am BST

So, if this article and pictorial are correct, Women and gays run the church and white guys are only allowed as organists and members of the choir, hmm? I know the CoE did a study a few years back on church demographics and it seemed to point to women priests having less faith in traditional theological norms(resurrection, etc.) Is there a new one on the way? Does liberal theology, being for same-sex marriage, etc. bring in more folk than conservative leanings? Or is the church looking in the wrong direction altogether? What will really make people stop going to Starbucks or sleeping in and start going to church? Groups for singles? Divorcees? Christians being open about their faith outside church and inviting friends from work etc. so that the church is a real community? Would the general CoE member dare invite friends/coworkers?

Cynthia, the Gallup poll, Pew forum, and TEC statistics have shown Episcopalians are richer, better educated, older, and less likely to go to church than other U.S. denominations, so the "country club" is probably more common than you think. Our downtown church is surrounded by the poor and ethnic minorities, but they won't come. Hopefully the CoE can find a way of avoiding that trap.

Is having more than one church in a single parish area allowed in the England so that there may be a conservative and liberal church in the same area?

Posted by: Chris H. on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 3:25am BST

"white guys are only allowed as organists and members of the choir" Chris H.

Er, why are you bringing race into this?

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 1:48pm BST

Chris H - yes it is possible to have multiple churches in the same parish, although it's much more common in urban areas than rural ones. However, it's unusual for churches in the same parish to have radically different churchmanship simply because the vicar of the parish church will have oversight of any daughter churches (and often will be doing all the services in any case) - the exception is evangelical church plants which seem to do their own thing regardless of whose parish they're technically in. In cities it's easier because you are likely to have multiple parishes, meaning those who want a particular thing can usually find it.

In rural areas the problem is actually compounded by uniting benefices - meaning that say your closest 5 churches might be served by the same vicar - with the same churchmanship. In at least one case I can think of in southern England this led to the PCC of one of the 4 churches in a benefice passing ABC in the last 5 years just to decouple from their vicar - even though it has meant that they now only have one service per month, but that one service is BCP mattins and shortened HC with a male priest and Hymns A&M, which is what they wanted even if it couldn't be every week. Oddly enough it's packed most services, with babies up to octogenerians... It did of course help that the chairman of the PCC also happened to have the living in his gift...

Posted by: primroseleague on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 2:28pm BST

The Robert McCrum article really seems to say it all. Until there is some major breakthrough on the current triple impasse, what is left to be said?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 3:27pm BST

Chris H. wrote "Cynthia, the Gallup poll, Pew forum, and TEC statistics have shown Episcopalians are richer, better educated, older, and less likely to go to church than other U.S. denominations, so the "country club" is probably more common than you think."

Chris, I travel extensively and have worshipped in many, many Episcopal Churches. Yes, there is a "country club" element. They tend to be conservative, so given the wildly liberal stance of the broad church I'm not seeing the "country club" set as dominant.

Yes, we are well educated, that does not put us in stereotypical molds. Some of us are FABULOUSLY educated in fields that don't pay! Or we go to downtown churches where we can see the homeless and poverty and dive in to help, creating a different consciousness than you will typically see at the country club.

I think that CoE and TEC might have elements of class in common, but we each have our diversity too. I doubt they have many Native Americans and Latinos, for example. And they have a whole different set of immigrants...

The question at hand is CoE and it's salvation. And there the questions of how welcoming parishes may be are highly relevant. As are the moral and political issues.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 6:53pm BST

What's with this sudden obsession of trying to bother ordinary folk and compel them 'to come to church' ? Why ? What's the point of it ?

What did you have in mind ?

Why not take some interest in those already coming to church lay and ordained ?

I am imagine some narcissistic
agenda lies behind it.

Posted by: Laurence on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 8:52pm BST

Um - something to do with the Great Commission, maybe?

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 at 11:14pm BST

The Great Commission involved being a Light to the World, not being a nuisance to your neighbors. You get them to go by demonstrating there's something to it, and, clearly, mass-market "christianity" doesn't.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 25 July 2013 at 6:16am BST

The great Commission mark 2 :

2 all nations and make all men (sic) attend church services !"

Duh ?

The industrial mission movement saw its mission as FINDING God already out there, embodied in so many lives, organisations, fields and ways.

Not taking God to the lost- not dragging them to church....

Posted by: Laurence on Thursday, 25 July 2013 at 10:28am BST

"Who am I to judge gay people ?" (pope !).


The Church of Rome also on its own search for salvation ?

Anyway getting real, it seems, and becoming a little more caring, a little more reasonable.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23489702

Posted by: Laurence on Monday, 29 July 2013 at 1:07pm BST

"Tim is right: McCrum writes "on the ground, in the shires and cities, it seems to be gay clerics and women priests who are keeping the Church of England alive, and in touch with society, from day to day" and then interviews gay and female priests and nobody else."

Like whom? It seems to me once you take out all the women and gays you'd have pretty slim pickings!

Posted by: Geoff on Thursday, 1 August 2013 at 6:40pm BST
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