THE Archbishop of
Canterbury gave the General Synod a sharp reminder of how quickly
British culture is changing. He is all too aware that a new
hostility to the Church has emerged.
This sets a profound
challenge: can the Church show that it has the interests of the
whole of society at heart?
The sexuality debate
marks a rift in society's good will towards the Church. It is easy
for the Church to think it can recover its credibility simply by
barking against welfare cuts. But the bark has no bite: the Church
is still widely, if unfairly, perceived as caring only about its
own issues - not just about women and gays, but also about numbers
For obvious reasons,
"mission" has become one of the most important words in the
Church's vocabulary. Parishes and deaneries are enrolled into
Mission Action Plans, and the clergy are expected to provide
I use this
mission-language myself, but find it increasingly problematic. If I
were an outsider, and had only secondhand knowledge of the Church's
concerns, I could well find the "mission" word slightly
I know that many of those
with a "heart for mission" care deeply about the whole fabric of
society. The problem is that language produces attitudes, and
mission-shaped language will always sound vaguely predatory to
those who fear that they may be the object of the Church's
outreach. Would I let my children go to Sunday school if this is
what I feared?
The Church has been part
of the English landscape for more than 1500 years, and it is still
very evidently around. The prevalence of the word "mission" could
suggest that its interest is institutional survival: bums on pews,
money in the plate. What is missing is the concept of
participation, a concern for society's well-being.
Here's an idea. Credit
unions make a real difference to those who are on the edge of
survival. A credit union has just been launched to help the clergy.
It's a shame that it started this way, but the Archbishop has
suggested that the Church could build on this, using church halls
as a base for local credit unions, as an alternative to pay-day
If this really worked,
and the Church facilitated a network of credit unions, it could put
the loan sharks out of business. Forget about bums on pews.
Humility, like charity, begins at home.
The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ
Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser
for the diocese of Oxford.