Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Change? Is it possible?

From The Pioneer – the Magazine of St. Augustine’s, Rush Green

‘The Church of England is in crisis over the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury’, so said the headline to an article in my copy of the Daily Telegraph on October 1st. The article went on to claim that the 16 strong Crown Appointments Committee were divided over who to recommend and that this division was the result of the different viewpoints of the members; nothing new there then I thought. The impression was given that the problem was between those who supported progressive ideas and those who held to strongly biblical ones. The result was an impasse that meant that we would not now have a new Archbishop ready to be enthroned as the old one stood down.

But wait, just a few days later and the same journalist, in the same paper was claiming that in the light of new information he could now reveal that the impasse was not over the interpretation of theology or women or same sex couples, but over whether to seek radical change in the C of E or whether to have a ‘safe pair of hands’ and stay the same.

This was an article that truly caught my attention, for suddenly there was a departure from the well worn battle lines of the last few years and an apparently new problem of how to see and approach the future. This later article set me to thinking, firstly such a revelation (if true) can only have come from someone in ‘the room’, either one of the 16 delegates or someone acting in a support capacity to them, such as a clerk or maybe even the tea person. Secondly, it would imply that the usual alliances of tradition and gender had broken down in order to form a set of strange new ones where the boundaries are, if anything, even more fixed. And thirdly, it invites the State in the form of the Prime Minister to become involved in breaking the impasse by ultimately making its own recommendation to the Queen.

The questions then are do we change? Indeed is change even possible given that we are the church of the state? And if we change, what do we change into?

The following are purely my own thoughts and not in any way some form of official policy. Firstly change in some form must be possible given that without it we would not even exist. The C of E was founded on a desire to change from Papal rule. We changed our services from Latin to English and designed our own Prayer Book, most recently we have changed to Common Worship; the only difference though is that we have never changed our structure, merely who heads the church and how we conduct our worship.

Secondly, I believe that if we really want to have a radical rethink of the way that we function then we need to be free from being the church of the state, the very fact that government has a say in the running of the church influences the way we think and act since any change we make could equally lead to them having to change in the light of public opinion.

So then what could we change into? The recently appointed Bishop of Durham (and a hot contender for Archbishop of Canterbury) has turned his diocese upside down and asked each parish or group of parishes’ to work out what it can afford to give over and above its operating expenses and guarantee to pay over that sum to the diocese, The Bishop will then deploy his clergy according to the resources available to him, using those who are non stipendiary to fill in the gaps.

There would be no teams of advisors or admin other than that provided by voluntary helpers and only a few centrally paid staff. Some of this is heavily hinted at in our own Bishop of Chelmsford’s ‘Transforming Presence’ but the real source is, I suspect, the early church, which grew and grew with none of the clutter that we now have, but where everybody did what they could and everyone supported each other. Radical – yes, Safe and secure – no, but a change that would truly reflect the Bible – we shall see.

May God be with you - Fr. Martin.

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