Thinking Anglicans

Renewal and Reform under the spotlight

Updated yet again Thursday evening

Today’s Observer newspaper has two pieces by Harriet Sherwood dealing with the Church of England.

As traditional believers turn away, is this a new crisis of faith?
Modern churches are driving up numbers among the young, but critics say their direct and emotional style of worship risks alienating mainstream Christians

…Ric Thorpe said: “What’s changed is that [the church] is now saying, we want this money to go towards growth – which, when it’s in decline, is a wise investment. In this new thinking, you’ve got to demonstrate that you’ve got a plan, that you’re putting [funding] to good use, that it’s not going to something that’s dying. There’s an urgency about this.”

He says small rural churches have a higher number of clergy per capita than dense, urban parishes. “Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people. If we are an outward-facing church we need to position people where they’re most needed: 83% of people live in urban areas, but 83% of [church] finance doesn’t go there. But it should.”

The church, he said, needed to help some rural parishes “face reality”. Some of those parishes, historically the backbone of the Anglican church, are wincing in pain. Another key plank of the Renewal and Reform programme is the goal of recruiting 6,000 priests over the next 15 years, to be “the leadership of the church in the 2030s, 40s and 50s”, says the church’s secretary general, William Nye…

and

Top cleric says Church of England risks becoming a ‘suburban sect’.
The cleric in question is Martyn Percy and there are extensive quotes from the afterword to his forthcoming book, The Future Shapes of Anglicanism.

According to Percy, the strategy is fundamentally flawed. “It will take more to save the Church of England than a blend of the latest management theory, secular sorcery with statistics and evangelical up-speak,” he writes.

A cure for the ailing church “would require a much deeper ecclesial comprehension than the present leadership currently exhibit … There seems to be no sagacity, serious science or spiritual substance to the curatives being offered.”

Rather, he says, the church “is being slowly kettled into becoming a suburban sect, corralling its congregations, controlling its clergy and centralising its communication. Instead of being a local, dispersed, national institution, it is becoming a bureaucratic organisation, managing its ministry and mission – in a manner that is hierarchically scripted.”

Updates

Three (so far) blog articles have already appeared in response to these newspaper stories:

Gary Waddington Mission or Managerialism

Eddie Green Crisis in the Church?

Ian Paul Does growth need management

And now a fourth: Richard Peers Holiness and Management

Two more articles:

Archbishop Cranmer The great canon doctor Martyn Percy implicates Justin Welby in “secular sorcery”

Wealands Bell Shiny Church or Soggy Church? Each has its place

And another two:

Andrew Lightbown Relaxed about R & R

Catholicity and covenant Renewal and reform, c.1099

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Peter K+
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Peter K+

I rejoice in the success of church planting and connection with younger people, but as a rural vicar I’d would want to challenge +Ric’s idea that that 83.3% of the C of E’s money should go to towns and cities! Some considerations: Firstly, since towns and cities have many other denominations the big picture is that a lot of ‘financial kingdom investment’ is focused on urban areas – it’s just through other denominations. Secondly, in villages where the C of E is often (usually?) the only Christian community in the community, there’s only so much slicing the cake thinner one… Read more »

Helen King
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Helen King

“Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people.” Why are these discussions so often focused on clergy? What about the lay people in the urban churches? Can’t they be supported to use their talents to ‘reach people’? One of the most interesting points in ‘That Was The Church That Was’ was (I’m summarising… ) the decline in lay involvement, particularly lay women’s involvement, after the State took over many of the welfare functions of the C of E. For all the occasional bursts of enthusiasm for the laity, I’m not aware of anything in… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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If you look at something like rural bus services, or delivery of service to remote locations, you can see the same ‘cost’ rather than ‘value’ equation used to justify cutbacks. Reduction of policy to numbers-driven decision-making threatens to ‘commodify’ living, relational communities that may not be HTBs, but are equally valid (and priceless) in their own ways. It also begs the question: whether city churches like HTB are the way to go. To an extent, this risks the gentrification of a metropolitan church, along a semi-charismatic and evangelical model. Of course provision of services to remote or rural communities may… Read more »

Anne Lee
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Anne Lee

Thank you Helen King for your perceptive comments. As a lay woman I have seen destructive marginalisation of lay involvement over the last 20 years and more. Why can the church hierarchies (i.e. clergy) not understand that it is the lay members of the church who are at the forefront of mission and evangelism, as well as the coffee rotas, flower arranging and child care. It is we who meet the unchurched and de-churched in our daily lives at work and in our communities. So how about giving us the tools we need to do that work effectively? The clergy… Read more »

Anne Lee
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Anne Lee

Peter K+ thank you for your comment. I am in total agreement with you. I see something slightly different, too. Where I worship, 4 village churches outside Oxford, the tragedy is that so many Christians go into Oxford on a Sunday to one of the ‘large’ self-described ‘successful’ churches in the city. I can understand that Christians with children want their children to be part of a good children/youth programme, but it might be possible for them to grow such a children/youth programme locally if they wanted to and were prepared to put in the effort. The Church of England… Read more »

Anne Lee
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Anne Lee

I forgot to say that the link in Helen King’s post gives me the message “Page not found”. I wonder if others have the same problem?

RPNewark
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RPNewark

The link in Helen King’s post includes a terminal full stop. Click the link and, when you get “Page not found”, go to the address bar and delete the final full stop, press “Enter” and away you go.

ED: I have now fixed the link.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

On a Facebook thread the point was made that rural churches account for a third of all worshippers despite only serving a sixth of the country’s population.
On what grounds does that deserve the allocation of 83% of funds to churches in towns?

Helen King
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Helen King

I think the computer crashed as I tried to post so apologies if this comes through twice.
Apologies for the link not being quite right and thanks to Simon for correcting it!
I agree, Anne, with what you say and am a fellow Oxfordshire resident.
Has anyone here been involved in the research which is supposed to lead to the report on the laity which is going to bishops’ council?

Anne foreman
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Anne foreman

Helen re: the report/research on lay leadership. A questionnaire (via survey monkey) asking for local examples of lay leadership, ideas on what is our vision for lay involvement, general examples of best practice…etc was distributed earlier this year with responses required by beginning of May. I was made aware of it (and responded) through being a member of General Synod. Anne Foreman

Froghole
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Froghole

When the bishop of Islington says that a number of rural churches need to be ‘helped’ to ‘face reality’, does he mean that as a promise or a threat? Interestingly, in the very next sentence Ms Sherwood writes that ‘another key plank of [R&R] is the goal of recruiting 6,000 priests over the next 15 years’. It is my understanding that many, if not all, of these new clergy are to be stipendiary. Many rural parishes are, frankly, extremely weak – not merely in terms of numbers but also demographic profile. I attended services at a number of churches in… Read more »

Helen King
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Helen King

Thanks, Anne. So you became aware of the questionnaire by being on GS and were able to respond – but who else could receive it and respond? Was that made clear in the material you saw?
As you can tell, I’m wondering what the evidence base is. I’m aware from various things I do that different dioceses have very different patterns of lay ministry (authorised or licensed), even before we get to the majority of lay people who aren’t included in the authorised/licensed groups.

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

There are some realities here which need to be faced – the CofE has fewer full-time stipendiary priests than the number of posts it collectively wants to fill, and the situation is likely to get worse over the next few years. So there is a question of how you allocate priests when you don’t have enough. Penetration in rural communities (number attending church as proportion of population) is high. That is in part an artefact of the failure of successive generations (Victorians, “Towards the Evangelisation of England” etc) to engage in really effective urban mission. Current leaders in the church… Read more »

Charles Read
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Charles Read

Froghole makes some pertinent points. I have ministered in Norfolk for 9 years, in a diocesan and regional role that means I get to see lots of churches, mainly Anglican. Many rural churches have been very flexible in how they ‘do church’and share ministry. By contrast, I seem to see the big suburban churches still very focused on clergy as the ministers -indeed Readers are often ignored in these churches, whereas rural benefices make better and more creative use of Readers and this encourages other lay ministry. Therefore, the HTB and other church plants have much to learn from the… Read more »

Jim Pratt
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Jim Pratt

I have had experience in both rural and urban settings, and I agree with Anne, Froghole and Charles. In my first parish, a 4-point rural charge, one of my congregations had an average Sunday attendance of 6, all over the age of 60. Yet it was a very vibrant congregation, outward-looking with pastoral care for everyone in their village (population 24), always very welcoming of the occasional visitor, generous in their financial support, and with strong lay leadership that maintained the building and cemetery and managed the finances. As their priest, my involvement was limited to 3 Sunday services per… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

I can but congratulate evangelicals for their efforts and deserved success, and that’s meant with whole sincerity. Individual liberal churches are also successful, but far too many run with the extraordinarily laissez-faire attitude of Martyn Percy: “We need to love and cherish the institution, and growth may come, or it may not.” This is incredible: a church that doesn’t evangelize will die. Growth won’t “come” by an act of magic, it’ll come by the efforts of its members to reach out. Not by harassing people on street corners, but by sincere words backed by deeds. I’ll happily assume that Percy’s… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“There are some realities here which need to be faced – the CofE has fewer full-time stipendiary priests than the number of posts it collectively wants to fill, and the situation is likely to get worse over the next few years. So there is a question of how you allocate priests when you don’t have enough.” In Anglicanism we do not have priests ie ministers who intermediate between lay members and God, although I accept that a disappointing number of ministers claim to be priests. All part of seeing ordained ministry as special because there is not a shortage of… Read more »

anne foreman
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anne foreman

Helen – If you go to https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/HPMC5WT you will find a page outlining the scope of the survey, but I guess we’ll have to wait for their report to see who was actually consulted. My own interest is in the group you refer to – the large numbers of lay people not authorised/licensed. Anne

anne foreman
Guest
anne foreman

Helen – sorry, should have said the National Deaneries network sent information about the Lay Leadership consultation to all deanery lay chairs. Anne

Helen King
Guest
Helen King

Ho hum, Anne; I don’t remember anything being mentioned at our Deanery Synod. Mind you, very little ever is, apart from the parish share. I did manage to get the Shared Conversations on the agenda, simply by offering to speak about my experience on them. Very few members had any idea they were happening…

Anne Lee
Guest
Anne Lee

Anne Foreman, thank you so much for sending the link to the Survey. It interests me when it says: “The purpose of the Task Group is to review how the Church supports lay leaders in community and society as well as within church structures. Its objective is to make recommendations that will increase the effectiveness and confidence of lay people in leading where they are called to serve – in wider society, in local community and within the Church of England (Church) in ways that grow disciples, extend God’s Kingdom and transform society.” It then says “For the purposes of… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

Thank you, Jim Pratt for your comment. Over the years I have seen a significant rise in the number of priests who are control freaks and think they are the lynch pin of the local church. One of the saddest things I saw in the last few years was when a number of lay people in the congregation of their parish church had significant issues with the stance and behaviour of their parish priest, that instead of getting together with the complainants and talking about their fears and concerns, the then Area Dean wrote them off as trouble makers, even… Read more »

Pam
Guest
Pam

The thing about ‘management’ and the church is that the two don’t seem to go together. Making a commitment to attend church, with all the emotional investment that involves, entails vulnerability. We are all vulnerable when we come clean and give of ourselves. It’s a big ask – growing as a disciple, extending God’s kingdom and transforming society! Jesus said “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Does that mean the burden of religion?

Andy Gr
Guest
Andy Gr

Erica asks: “On a Facebook thread the point was made that rural churches account for a third of all worshippers despite only serving a sixth of the country’s population. On what grounds does that deserve the allocation of 83% of funds to churches in towns?” and Anne says: “It would be very interesting to know… if any Deanery Synod anywhere has talked and thought about lay leadership.” With these comments in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share the story of the deanery in Essex of which I’m area dean. 1. In 2009 the deanery had 15 paid… Read more »

Andy Gr
Guest
Andy Gr

(continued from previous post) 2. We’ve just had a further round of consultations and a vote of deanery synod, and the number of paid incumbent-level clergy is likely to reduce by 2025 from the current 10 to 7.5. We considered a formula for deployment of clergy by population (one paid clergyperson for 10 000 population approx.) and a formula by average attendance (one paid clergyperson for 120 average attenders approx.) but ended up with a more complex formula which takes both these factors into consideration, but also geographic distance between worship centres. Again, we are keen that the conversation isn’t… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Andy Gr,
thank you for that. Yes, villages are often very good at setting up a comprehensive lay ministry team and support – our benefice certainly is.

I don’t quite understand, though, why that should mean that the majority of the funds goes to churches in towns. Surely, they could do the same thing?
What is it that makes churches in cities need that much more money?

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

This has been a most interesting thread, with links to a number of useful comments. The dissonance between the dean of Christ Church (the unofficial leader of the opposition to the bench) and the central authorities can be reduced to an argument about means rather than ends. I am sure that Dr Percy wants parish churches to grow, but his ostensible nonchalance about where matters might end has been construed as dangerously complacent. However, there is also a slightly unsavoury ruthlessness about some of the more growth-orientated policymakers. We all want growth, but at what cost, and in whose favour?… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Andy, that sounds excellent but we really do need to start teaching that *any* group of Christians gathered together can celebrate the Eucharist and there’s zero need for any minister to be present – ordained or otherwise.

Victoriana
Guest
Victoriana

@Kate 19 August at 11.01pm I think the Diocese of Sydney has trialled the ‘zero need for any minister to be present’ approach, with the result of a massive increase in diaconal ordinations. You might want to explore some of Bishop Keith Rayner’s responses to the lay presidency debate from the mid-1990s (Rayner was the Australian primate at the time). Eucharist might well take the form of some type of Agape in a more informal setting. But the ‘zero need’ side of the equation might need to be balanced against the ecclesiological reality of Anglicanism. Our assumptions are that a… Read more »