Book title: Setting The Church Of England Free
Author: Mark Mills-Powell, editor
Publisher: John Hunt
Church Times Bookshop £13.50
HOW can the Church of England be liberated from the management of decline, which is consuming its energy and resources? Where can we discover new patterns of church life that focus clearly on mission?
These two questions lie at the heart of this collection of 18 essays by authors of different experiences, traditions and perspectives.
The contributions vary greatly, not least in length, from Tim Dakin’s 25 densely argued pages on “A Missionary Church in Britain”, to Tony Hodgson’s four-page, almost bullet-point summary of his Little Gidding Community experience.
The one conviction the authors share is that the Church of England is at a critical point in its history, facing not only decline in numbers, but, more significantly, a crisis of confidence and credibility. The contributions offer valuable pointers to the re-formation of the Church of England, and vital clues to a “fundamental reappraisal of attitudes and practices”.
Each author is fired by a particular personal passion, ranging from Tom Gillum’s enthusiasm for the Sant’Egidio movement in Rome, to Colin Buchanan’s familiar and persuasive call for disestablishment. Jim Cotter describes Eglwys Tecwyn Sant, a small pilgrim place of hospitality in Wales, where worship is “informal, intimate, and intense”.
Ray Simpson draws inspiration from Celtic sources, John Summers from basic ecclesial communities in Latin America, and Hugh Ellis from networks of prayer-focused, mission-oriented groups pioneering a “modern monasticism movement”.
Mary and Bob Hopkins focus on radical missionary church-planting initiatives, and challenge church leaders to introduce radical structural changes, not least the disbanding of General and diocesan synods for ten years to allow bishops to lead in mission. Trevor Beeson’s contribution also strongly argues the point that we need bishops who are missionary pioneers rather than crisis-managers.
The book ends with three responses, by Richard Ingrams, David Pytches, and Wanda Nash, who regrets the contributors’ tendency to focus on doing rather than being. For the Church to survive, she claims, it must become a central still point to which everything else is tethered — “stillness to receive God as God is, and not as what we make of God”.
This book is marred by too-gentle editing, poor proof-reading, and an odd craze for indenting whole paragraphs for no apparent reason. Nevertheless, it is an encouraging and inspiring volume, to be commended to all who care for the future of the Church of England.
Canon Bruce Duncan is the former Principal of Sarum College, and is now in retirement acting as Lazenby and St Luke’s Chaplain to the University of Exeter
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