I can hardly say how much I wanted the current discussions at Synod on the Church of England to inspire me. The title of Archbishop Cottrell’s Report, “A Vision for the Church of England in the 2020s ‘Christ centred and Jesus shaped. Simpler, humbler, bolder’,” struck a good note, although the subtitle ‘A commentary to accompany the picture’ gave cause for concern. I recognise such diagrams. I have worked with enough ‘consultants’ to recognise the genre.
By sheer serendipity, I was reading my copy of the Church Times over morning coffee, and a review of a book whose title interested me God’s Church in the World: The gift of Catholic mission, which finished with a sentence that resonated in the light of the document:
Just at the moment, when we might be tempted to streamline and rebrand the way in which we market the Anglican operation, the contributors to this book invite us to pause and take stock. The mission of God is entrusted to us as a gift, not a commodity. This is a book that might inspire us to talk, walk, and eat more slowly, in order to be attuned to a redemptive encounter with the Word who speaks our language but in the cadences of eternity.
How I wish that the Bishop of Chichester, had had more say in the report. Our mission is a ‘gift’ and not a ‘commodity’. We have not been ‘given’ the power of ministry, we have been lent it and, as stewards, we have to account for it. How often do we appear to be like that steward who buried the talent and was intent on escaping punishment by hoarding it so he could hand back what he had been given?
I am all in favour of our being ‘bolder’, and there can be times, especially out here in the country, when we seem like a club, but I am unsure, to put it mildly what is ‘bold’ about this report. It seems more like a meditation on how to manage decline.
It may, of course, be that it is laywomen like me out in the community who are out of touch with what our leaders see as essential, but I’d love to know more about the sources of this vision. It reminds me of my time in teaching, where ever and anon some ‘expert’ would pop up with a vision for the future which looked to those of us in the class-room so remote from our lived reality that it was little wonder that nothing much came of whatever it was. Focus groups have their place, but I cannot help think that the Bishop of Chichester is right. Pausing and taking stock is necessary, but if this is the result?
There is much in it with which no one would want to disagree, but my question is what does it add up to? Of course I want a
a younger and
more diverse church, a church that serves
children and young people and involves
them in its leadership and ministry; a
church where black lives matter
but if we are going to do lists to signal our virtue, why aren’t women and LGBTI+ people on it? If anyone really thinks our Church fully reflects women’s voices, they aren’t listening, and as for the gay, lesbian and transgender voices …?
Yes, it is obvious we are ‘not as big’ as we used to be. But what does that mean other than the obvious? Smaller and more faithful and missionary can be better than numerically large and lukewarm. There seems little sense here of how we got from there to here and the lessons to be learned. Where were the historians in this?
I am not sure what a ‘Jesus-shaped’ Church looks like, but I do know what a ‘Management consultant shaped’ Church looks like, and I think I know which this looks more like.
As the discussion proceeds, perhaps there will be things to cheer me up – I was ever an optimist.