When old Augustine came to England in 597, it was at the invitation of Pope Gregory to win the country back from the paganism into which it had slipped in the 180 years since the Romans had left. As Bede tell us, there were still pocket of Christianity left in parts of the country, but the Saxon, Angles and Jutes had driven the faith back on the defensive. So, we might feel we want to celebrate the See of St Augustine’s recent decision to have another go at dealing with the pagans – although the idea that the way to do it is via a ‘pagan church’ might raise an eyebrow or two. Read a little further, and it is not just the eyebrows which rise; the blood-pressure follows suite.
I know it is dangerous to believe anything journalists write, but the following sounds so authentically (a certain type of) Anglican that I give it credence:
Reverend Steve Hollinghurst, a pioneer minister who is looking to recruit pagan believers to Anglicanism, told the BBC: “I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.”
He said it would be “almost to create a pagan church where Christianity was very much in the centre.”
Where to begin with what is wrong with this? We don’t want to recruit pagan believers, we want to convert them, surely? If they remain pagan and are recruited, perhaps they will convert the Anglicans? (Out of respect for Jessica, Struans and Malcolm I will not add what I might have been tempted to add). I would not want pagans to ‘be at home’ with a ‘culture’, I would want them to be ‘challenged’. I don’t know a way of breaking this to the Rev. Steve, but Christianity is very much not at the centre of paganism; the man, at least as reported, is an idiot. But he’s not the only one.
Andrea Campenale, of the Church Mission Society, said: “Nowadays people, they want to feel something; they want to have some sense of experience.
“We live in reflective England where there’s much more of a focus on ourselves. I think that is something we can bring in dialogue with the Christian society.”
She speaks as though this selfish focus upon ourselves is a good thing and something her church needs to encourage. The dialogue we need with such people is that they need to focus upon God and upon His will; we need to repent our sins and follow the life of sacrifice of Christ. We do not need to sit under blue triangles and discuss our inner being.
The Church Mission Society’s webpage advertising their pioneer training scheme states: “Wherever in the world the mission of Jesus goes on, the church needs pioneer mission leaders to break new ground.”
With that, I agree, but if the ‘new ground’ involves ‘recruiting’ into the church those obsessed with themselves and who have a vague belief in ‘spirituality’ there’s nothing new in that – most churches are full of that kind.
That whirring sound – yes, it is Augustine of Canterbury turning at high velocity in his tomb.