There was a speech at last week’s General Synod (governing body of the C of E) that the Church of England was facing a catastrophic decline in numbers in the next twenty years. I have blogged on this area here and here in the past. The daily telegraph picked up on it and reported it under the by-line “Ageing Church of England will be dead in twenty years”.
Now I have already blogged on why this is unlikely to happen and how it is perfectly possible to have this change. In fact we have already seen some small signs that the worst may be over. As Charlie Peer points out some of the fallacies of this. In addition I would point out that most doom and gloom views show a straight-line graph of decline that assumes that we won’t have anyone join the church. Now this is statistically a questionable situation and not one that would stand up to scrutiny.
The usual suspects jump on the bandwagon. Peter Mullen who is the Rector of St Michael’s Cornhill in the City of London has written an article for the Telegraph about how his congregation has gone through the roof
But there are outposts of sanity even in our decayed institution, and these are the traditional Churches, High, Low or Broad, where the faith has not been dumbed down or accommodated itself to the prevailing secular fashions. In our church of St Michael’s Cornhill , for instance, we have seen the congregation increase tenfold in the last 13 years. And this is because the people of St Michael’s are not typical of the grinning apparatchiks who rule the Church with a trendy Lefty agenda to rival anything produced by the BBC. These are people who have a passion for theology, who use at all services the matchless King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer, and who have no inclination to subscribe to the Noddy liturgies and bad news Bibles of the theological and literary philistines in the synod and on the Liturgical Commission.
Now I hate to disagree with my learned colleague (well that statement is untrue actually!) but we do have to have a bit of context. There are thousands of churches in England that use the Book of Common Prayer each Sunday up and down the land. When you dig a bit further you find that Revd Mullen has gained a bit of fame (or notoriety whichever you prefer) as a critic of the BBC, lefties etc etc. In other words he appeals to a certain group of people that nostalgically look back to a golden age and has probably hoovered up many who find his views conducive to their own.
But the same critique could be made of Mullen’s views as I made of the book “For the Parish” recently that it is
the National Trust at prayer. Seeking to preserve all the old properties without change. A National Trust property can be a glorious thing but we can’t all live in one.
This brings me to the Children. When I arrived in Southwark diocese I was told by the Bishop that it didn’t matter if the church didn’t have any children in it because people will come back to it when they get old. Donna told me something similar had been told her by a vicar she knows. Now obviously this is an assertion that assumes that people with no knowledge of the Christian faith will suddenly turn up on the church’s doorstep.
On that issue I spent the day at the Children and Youth Development Group of the diocese yesterday. There were a number of real changes that I have seen since I joined it. When I joined (some 5 years ago) it was sclerotic. It achieved little of real value and the politics of it were both depressing and numbing. It was a good example of how the mission of the church was being sacrificed to the bureaucracy and politics of the church.
But much can be achieved in five years. We are coming into a new place in the Church – in this diocese and in the church nationally. The Fresh Expressions agenda has caught on – not everywhere its true – but in many unexpected places. Many clergy are no longer prepared to see a dying church. I have recounted when I went to Westcott for the day how some of the last people I would have expected to have been in favour of doing new things.
Our link with St Michael’s and the planting of our new congregation Springfield@Roundshaw don’t just have a local effect. Angela and I are talking at a diocesan Church Planting day, hopefully in the autumn sharing our experiences of planting in her Parish.
The change in the Children and Youth Development group has also been hugely hopeful. We are drawn from all parts of the diocese and from different traditions but we are united in not being prepared for “graceful decline”. We are passionate about the church connecting with children and young people.
Our day on Wednesday was important in that we had an outside facilitator Nigel Pimlott of the Frontier Youth Trust who helped us to look to see what was really important for us. What came up time and again was a willingness to really evaluate what we were trying to achieve, to see real fruit coming out of our work and to equip and encourage the diocese in its work with children and young people. We may have come from different traditions but all of us wanted to see more children and young people becoming disciples of Jesus Christ and for the local churches to engage with the children and young people in their church and their communities.
The difference this time around is that we are prepared to push the sclerotic bureaucracies to achieve the ends. We are also receiving support from the diocese in reaching these ends. The Bishop is wanting to put mission firmly at the centre of his agenda in the diocese and groups like the Children and Youth Development Group can play its role in helping ensure future generations are active in the Church.