(Ch Times) Linda Woodhead-The challenges that the new C of E reports duck

Not surprisingly, a mild sense of panic leaks out of all the reports. I imagined Archbishops standing in the road shouting: “The car is stuck in a ditch! Quick! Grab the tools nearest to hand and get it out!” But, the more I read, the more I worried that the hard questions that needed to be asked had been sidelined: why the vehicle fell into the ditch; whether it needed a different engine and new running gear; and whether it was going in the right direction in the first place.

The failure to get to grips with the terrain is particularly apparent. It is said of the society of which the Church is part that it is a “secularised, materialistic culture, often experienced as a desert for the soul”, “built on the . . . presumption that I get to make my life up”. This is a troublingly paranoid and unevidenced projection, and it urgently needs to be married to the existing research on cultural values, social change, and the reasons for church decline which could inform it.

As for the nature of the Church, and the priorities for its recovery, it is simply assumed that the improvement depends on more and better clergy; that only congregations can fund it (with a fillip from the Commissioners); and that being a Christian is a matter of “discipleship”.

Read it all.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Evangelism and Church Growth, Ministry of the Laity, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Theology

10 comments on “(Ch Times) Linda Woodhead-The challenges that the new C of E reports duck

  1. tired says:

    Talk, talk, talk. ‘Societal vs. congregational,’ ‘laity vs. clergy’ ‘strategic investments,’ etc. Church in Sardis? Wake up!

    Stewardship may be important, but the heart of CoE as a church does not witness the Gospel to me – the witness is more that of a progressive verger, escorting the laity into a slow adoption of worldliness with tithing.

    Let me know how that works for you…

  2. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    [blockquote]societal Churches go out into society; congregational ones try to bring society into church. Historically, the Church “of England” has always been a bit of both, but its centre of gravity has been societal.

    These reports abandon that heritage without even realising it. Their overriding concern is to boost congregations by giving them better clergy leaders. But, if the Church is serious about maintaining “a presence in every community”, equal attention surely needs to be given to its entry-points into society, those places where the rubber of Chris­tianity meets the road of real life: in homes, play­groups, schools, and other places where children are so­cialised; in the occasional Offices, and the new personal and civic rituals that are developing; in railway stations, shop­ping centres, hospitals, and other sites of chaplaincy; in our built heritage, and in cherished tra­di­tions.[/blockquote]
    I haven’t read all the reports coming out of the CofE this week, but intend to, along with the report issued by the Church when it was considering just the same issues in 1945: ‘Towards the Conversion of England’ under Archbishop Temple. From that come these quotes covering just the same territory and with a positive series of recommendations:

    The Part of the Clergy in Evangelism
    88. […] The spiritual temperature of a congregation depends chiefly on the parish priest. […] Generally speaking the Church cannot rise higher than the lives of its clergy. The parish priest must, also, himself exercise a converting ministry, charged as he is at his ordination “to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad.” […]

    90. Any forward move, therefore, in evangelism must begin with the clergy themselves, and with their coming together to gain a new liberation into the vision of the glory of God. Our first recommendation as a Commission is that the Bishops (if they have not already done so) should arrange for gatherings of their clergy for this purpose. […]

    91. […] A converting ministry implies an attitude of expectancy which pervades and influences every department of an ordinary parochial ministry. Each individual is seen as one for whom Christ died, and Church services and parochial organizations as the appointed means of presenting Christ more clearly as Saviour, Lord and King. […]

    92. […] Seeing that the vast majority of the population has no understanding of liturgical worship, there will be the need, on occasion of for short periods, of informal services to which non-worshippers can be invited, introduced to the art of worship, and instructed in it. But the regular services of the Church can also proclaim the evangel even to those unversed in their use, if they are made intelligible and given coherence around a theme. […]

    93. The decrying of Preaching, which became fashionable in some quarters during the present century, has constituted a fatal departure from the past tradition of the whole Church.
    In the words of both Franciscan and Dominican writers, the surprising assertion is found that: “It is more profitable to hear God’s word in preaching than to hear mass.” Preaching was termed a sacrament by Bishop Nicholas Ridley […].
    Evangelistic sermons are not simply those which call for definite acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord, though such appeals might well be more frequent. Every sermon (whether instructional, ethical or homiletical) can be evangelistic in the sense that through it God challenges the hearer’s will, and that it demands decision and action. For this, there is a crying need for a return to Bible preaching. Without it there can be no evangelistic ministry in the pulpit […].

    94. Visiting can be a real adventure in evangelism, if it is undertaken in a spirit of expectancy, and buttressed with prayer. but [sic] a house-going parson will not make a church-going people, if his visits mean nothing more than a friendly social call: nothing, certainly, that required the laying on of hands at ordination. […] Furthermore, whenever a visit meets with a response that seems to promise the hope of a conversion, it should be followed up and prayed over until a decision is reached one way or the other.

    Edited extracts of the report can still be found on the late John Richardson’s site [lower right], and I rather wondered whether the report had been read by those who have produced the latest reports.

    Personally, I am delighted that we are talking about something other than bishops [though one was hard-pressed to say that yesterday given the attack of vapors over at Thinking Anglicans over Philip North’s consecration] and not inclined as others have done to shoot down the latest church reports as seems to have happened from left and right of field. The key thing is that people are thinking about this seriously and that can only be a good thing.

    I am not convinced that evangelism begins with training bishops and cathedral deans but at the front end in parish and mission work. I have no easy fixes, but suspect that things begin with surrender and obedience to Christ, study of his Word, and considerable amounts of prayer. If He builds the house, it will stand.

  3. driver8 says:

    BTW the full 1945 report, ‘Towards the Conversion of England’ looks to be available [url=https://sites.google.com/site/biogneilcullen2011/Welcome/towards-the-conversion-of-england-1945]here[/url].

  4. driver8 says:

    I always enjoy Prof Woodhead’s contributions – she’s always thoughtful, gently provocative, she’s an expert in this area and she seems to care about the future of the church (which, in my limited experience, is not quite true of all sociologists of religion).

    I hope I’m not being unjust – I certainly don’t intend to be – her imagined future is I think a church that is less hierarchical, more lay empowered – not just in governance but in diversity and creativity of spiritual expression, less congregational, less doctrinal, less argumentative, more empowering of a whole range of styles of commitment and engagement. (With the gently spoken warning that the alternative is most likely continued sickness unto death).

    For me the “rubber hits the road passage” is the section on the socialization of children. In the imagined bricoling church of the future – into what are children to be socialized?

  5. driver8 says:

    Just thinking aloud – please forgive the multiple posts.

    Very crudely the CofE has emphasized 2 realities that were seen as mutually supportive:

    1. Thriving congregations in each locality
    2. Being at the heart of a broader and looser constituency

    The various reports by the CofE broadly emphasize trying to revitalize the former. My guess is that some view this as fighting a battle that there is no evidence can be won. Individual parishes will survive and thrive, but the system as whole is already lost. Placing one’s emphasis and funding here is fighting a battle that won’t be won: a. is gone already in some areas and will go in many areas within a generation, and b. might be lost without a radical rethink and very different kinds of engagement.

    So the effort ought to go more strongly into b. – with a model perhaps the “national” Scandinavian churches – various forms of engagement with a broader and looser constituency with varying degrees of affiliation and commitment. So Scandinavia has high rates of “membership” and a very broad voluntary funding base, very low rates of attendance, high rates of participation in “occasional” offices, very low rates of belief.

    Presumably if one accept this sort of Sophie’s choice analysis – the alternative is to give up b. and focus on being a smaller, more tight knit, more willingly counter cultural, gathered sort of church. However CofE clergy are so overwhelmingly committed to a wider engagement that it’s hard to see that they would ever willingly support such a move.

    Difficult choices whichever way one looks, if the predictions of this sort of analysis are true.

  6. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #3 Good find, driver8. Excellent, and a moving tribute in the dedication to John Richardson. Perhaps after banging on about the shelved report for years, John’s work may bear late fruit. I pray so.

  7. driver8 says:

    1. Yup, may he rest in peace and rise in glory.

    2. I’ve been thinking of other models – than the Scandinavian one – for this imaging of the church’s future and think there may be a certain sort of parallel to Japanese Western-style wedding chapels. Another closer self understanding might be, something like, hospital chaplaincy – with the heart of the institution becoming chaplaincy to the nation or local community, or some such.

    You might guess that I would go for what some have called, [url=http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/benedict-option/]”the Benedict option”[/url] but it helps me to think clearly about a super thoughtful, very informed, very intelligent person’s alternative imagined future.

  8. MichaelA says:

    Professor Woodhouse’s comment is just as vacuous as the reports she critiques, because she also ignores the elephant in the room – theological difference. The crisis of the Church of England is primarily theological – some of its most productive people hold to the historic belief of the Church of England, that God has not called women to lead congregations (let alone dioceses), and they are being marginalized and oppressed as a result.

    Until the leadership (and that includes influential lay persons such as Linda Woodhouse) face up to this, then all their ideas and plans are analogous to re-arranging deck chairs on a sinking boat.

  9. driver8 says:

    1. English parishes as a whole have faced decline on every measure of participation for, let’s say minimally, 50 years. The current theological crisis (or the one before that, or the one before that etc.) exacerbated but aren’t plausible as sole or even major causes of this decline, at least from a sociological point of view.

    2. When one looks at data – such as how many lay people look to the church’s doctrine when making life choices – it is, sadly, vanishingly small. (Think for example of western Catholics and the RCs teaching on contraception).

    3. Nevertheless – there is a large and growing constituency of what might be called, “spiritual but not religious”. The imagined future is for the church itself to become “spiritual but not religious”. The question for those of us who disagree is to offer an alternative imagined future that looks the data square in the face.

    4. Your right to see that it seems to imply a pragmatic or non-realist view of theological truth and its replacement in significance by the sociological language of function.

    For me the virtue of understanding this sort of revolutionary proposal is not because I agree with it – because I wholeheartedly and passionately disagree – but because it focuses one’s own response – and in order to let it do its work properly you need to look at the strongest, most plausible, most empathetic version and then use it as a whetstone.

  10. MichaelA says:

    #9, if your first point is meant to be a response to me, then it is wide of the mark.

    “The current theological crisis (or the one before that, or the one before that etc.)” are precisely the major cause of the current decline. They are all, in the end, the same theological crisis: an unwillingness to stand on the truths of scripture, and to prefer the current thinking that is popular in the world. That has many inevitable results, and one of them is that ordinary people lose respect for the Church. Another is that those who stand on the truths of scripture find that there are points beyond which they are not prepared to move.

    Hence why Linda Woodhouse’s article in the end offers nothing more helpful to the CofE than the reports she critiques.
    [blockquote] “English parishes as a whole have faced decline on every measure of participation for, let’s say minimally, 50 years.” [/blockquote]
    Of course, and that decline has been very obviously due to theological causes. When the Bishop of Woolwich can publicly call for situational ethics in 1963, and the Archbishop of Canterbury can only give an ineffectual answer, you know that the reputation of the Church as a spiritual guide and pillar is headed downhill.

    But that is history and I was referring to the CofE as it is now. The current crisis can only be averted if the leaders of the CofE acknowledge that there is a theological divide between them and the orthodox evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. It is true that that divide is essentially the same as that which existed between the liberal Bishop Robinson in 1963 and the “traditionalists” who opposed him (such as C. S. Lewis), which could be encapsulated as, “does scripture and tradition guide the church or not?”

    However, the current touchstone of the divide is women bishops, although only because orthodox evangelical congregations in the CofE have to a large extent been able to quarantine themselves from accepting women priests. But unless the CofE hierarchy can bring themselves to concede that the orthodox are worthy of respect – and that means permitting them an assured place in the church with their own bishops and priests who are not women – then the CofE will continue on its downward spiral.

    The fact that the CofE hierarchy cannot do that is due to their theology – they are so committed to their particular doctrine of equality that they cannot concede that male-only doctrines have any place in the Church of England. Hence the problem is at heart a theological one, and Linda Woodhouse, like the bishops, doesn’t get it.