We reported the action of the CofE House of Bishops earlier this week here: Bishops discuss access to church buildings.
Before that announcement was made, Angela Tilby had written this for the Church Times: The C of E has become member-only.
…As Bishop Peter Selby suggested in an article in The Tablet last week, the result, in effect, has been to “privatise” the Church of England — achieving what the National Secular Society has failed to do in years of earnest campaigning.
How trite has been the little trope that “The Church is people, not buildings,” which totally misses the point about the public and institutional nature of the Church. We are now a domestic, members-only Church, with nothing to say to the nation about death, sacrifice, or charity, and nothing to plead before God on behalf of us all.
What we are left with is what the narrator in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India describes as “poor little talkative Christianity”, delighted with itself for having mastered Zoom meetings, and talking excitedly about new mission opportunities, while refusing, in some cases, “for safety reasons”, even to put the church notices through the doors of those who have no access to the internet. There are many priests, of course, who have battled their way through this, still finding ways to connect with the needy and vulnerable — even, sometimes, and with a bad conscience, creeping into their churches to pray…
And Meg Warner had written: Re-visiting Aberfan: The Church of England and Covid-19
…Such a concession – the apparent lack of conviction that the Church of England has anything to offer the situation – is deeply disheartening. The Church of England’s experience of the disasters of 2017 shows it also to be wrong.
Why is it that the Church of England now appears to be content to throw away the green shoots of its new life that everybody else seems to have noticed in 2017?
The parallels between the Queen and Aberfan and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Covid-19 are not, I suggest, superficial and they are not coincidental. As valid and cogent as the five reasons articulated by the Archbishop may be, they do not paint the full picture. The Bishops’ decision, the Aberfan story suggests, is motivated, at least in part, by fear. The fear is that the Church of England has little to offer to Covid-19 society, and that if offered, it would likely be judged irrelevant, and therefore self-indulgent and dangerous.
Ironically, the Archbishop’s decision to withdraw to his palace, away from public consciousness, and to direct his bishops and priests to do likewise, just as in the case of the withdrawal of the Queen after Aberfan and the death of Diana, raises the spectre of precisely the outcome the Archbishop and the Church of England are keen to avoid. Like Oedipus and the Queen, the Archbishop, in his attempt to ‘do the right thing’, risks bringing about the very disaster of which he himself has often warned – that the churches might be empty by the end of his unexpectedly long tenure at Canterbury….
Afterwards, Richard Burridge wrote this detailed analysis of the bishops’ statements.
…However, this means that the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what is happening is denied [the bishops] – and therefore perhaps the responsibility for this falls on those of us who are retired and on the sidelines in this situation, locked down with nothing else to do but think and write (the excellent article by +Peter Selby in the Tablet last week was a superb example of this). In that spirit I offer these reflections in an attempt to “speak the truth in love” to my episcopal friends and former colleagues – and pray that they might be able to receive it, although I say hard things, in that same spirit. And I also apologise for any offence or hurt caused by the previous circulation of these reflections – that was not my intent, sorry.
This is because I find the Statement profoundly worrying in its use of language. It would have been a golden opportunity, in an admittedly extremely complex and fast-moving situation to give the nation an example of how Christians can admit to having made a mistake, change their minds (which is what ‘repentance’, metanoia, means in Greek), apologise, and seek forgiveness and a new way forward in life – as indeed I am trying to do in this amended version. Instead, I fear that its use of language, with its ‘doublethink’, is regrettably typical more of the approach being taken by leading politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, than that of teachers of the faith and shepherds of Christ’s flock…
I do recommend that you read the whole of his article, carefully.