My last post raised some interesting comments (always the best part of the blog) about churches which lie outside the historic churches. One of the things which struck me about Pastor Gervase’s book was that the church he writes about was a response to the failure of those churches.
In the circumstances of England in 1812, it would be ludicrous to say that it was the failure of the Catholic Church – it was still proscribed by law in the UK and Catholics did not have the vote and could not sit in Parliament; it was my own, Anglican, Church which failed here.
The area around Stoke, which became known as ‘the Potteries’ was one of those areas where the population expanded due to the Industrial Revolution, and the Established Church simply failed to minister to the people who poured into these new ‘boom towns’. Yet the result was not, as it might have been, a growth of a heathen population divorced from Christ and His Truth, it was a kind of self-help Christianity, where the Bible was such a part of the lives of ordinary people, that they went in alone and ministered to themselves.
It raises questions for our own time. The Catholic Church has just embarked on its ‘Year of Faith’, which is an exciting prospect. I asked the priest at the Catholic church I sometimes attend what he was doing for the year, and he pointed to a list of lectures which are taking place, mostly about 60 miles from here, and mostly on a Saturday evening. When I looked, there were some good lectures and lecturers, but quite what that had to do with the town in which I live, and his own dwindling congregation, I don’t know.
The short answer appears to be that the local church is doing precisely nothing to reach out to the people in the town. Nearly 5000 people live here, and talking to the priests and ministers of the churches here, I’d estimate that about 250 people go to services on a Sunday; that trebles at Christmas services – but even on the most generous estimate, fourth fifths of the population here never go anywhere near a church, despite the fact we have both a Catholic and a Church of England school in the town.
Against this backdrop, for the local priest to think a series of lectures sixty miles away is an adequate response to the call for Evangelisation, stunned me. Yet my own Church, which is not having such a ‘year’ also does next to nothing.
‘A Year of evangelisation’? What are we, as Christians, doing the rest of the time? Our schools seem incapable of stirring any enthusiasm for Christianity in the children there, and the ones who attend my Sunday school tell me this is the first time they’ve ever actually learned anything about Christianity without it being compared with something else.
There is one group locally which does evangelise, and which seems very active and is growing in numbers. It is a local Pentecostal church. I can’t quite bring myself to think it is wrong when, in the face of indifference from the other churches here, it is a grass-roots movement of Christians who want to reach out to others with the Good News. I just wish my own church or the local Catholic one was half as active in reaching out to an unchurched population.