If you work for the Church of England in any capacity, from Archbishop of Canterbury to parish flower-arranger, how do you deal with the distressing statistics that in the past 20 years, average Sunday attendance has plummeted to 780,000 and is going down by a rate of about 20,000 a year?
Do you pretend it’s not happening and just tell everyone about the spike in your numbers at Christmas, or accept that it might be happening but believe that God’s grace will deal with the problem in its own good time? Or do you throw your weight behind a vast national marketing initiative, hurling millions of pounds at the problem?
Are you, in short, a denier or a panicker? We must thank Bishop Humphrey Southern, principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon, for coming up with those two words to describe the people on opposite sides of the debate, which isn’t really a debate because the people on opposite sides are hardly speaking to each other. In the nicest, most prayerful Christian way, they can’t stand each other and will do their best to avoid each other at synodical events. The panickers think the deniers are steering the Church towards oblivion; and the deniers think the panickers are eroding and cheapening the Church’s whole character.