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Passing the baton on to the next generation


Geoff Crawford

"Much to learn": Tudor Griffiths 

"Much to learn": Tudor Griffiths 

THE General Synod debated the report Challenges for the Quinquennium: Intentional evangelism on Monday afternoon, and supported the formation of an Archbishops' Task Group on Evangelism.

Introducing a debate that was "nearer to [his] heart than any other theme", the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said: "Worship and witness, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are the Church's reason for being. . . All people in Britain experience weather, and they talk about it readily and repeatedly. If only disciples of Jesus Christ in England did the same about him; and he is infinitely greater than British weather."

The Revd Dr Tudor Griffiths (Gloucester) spoke of the global context as an inspiration. The Church had "much to learn from the Churches of the Anglican Communion".

Susan Cooper (London) made a plea "for those parishes that do not carry the word 'Evangelical' in their title and way of looking at things", but did evangelism "in a more oblique way". Her church's best evangelist was the director of music, who went into schools to recruit children to join the choir. The area was one with many "dual-faith families", and she asked for help in communicating with these parents, to explain the implications of their children's getting confirmed.

Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) suggested that the Church should be asking "why people do not identify an affinity with the Church of England in the way they used to before". This could be "to do with the brand, with the way we present ourselves". People under 50 who were asked about the C of E "will either shrug, or say it is homophobic or misogynistic". They might also wonder "what we are doing that is useful".

He pointed to the questionnaire sent out by the Pope to Roman Catholics, and suggested a similar exercise. He also argued that the Church must not "focus entirely on Fresh Expressions at the cost of Sunday-morning worship".

The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke of how it was planned that the Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Revd Tony Porter, would have "seed-scattering weekends", where he would "encourage ordinary members of parishes to be witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ in their settings".

Alongside this, a five-week series, The Gap, had recently concluded in Nottingham city centre. "We have sought to do apologetics in a different way," he said, with "chat shows, comedy, and music." This had attracted people who had nothing to do with the Church, and had led church members to comment that it had "helped us to be firmer and clearer in how we will witness for Jesus Christ in our place of work".

The Revd Ruth Hind (Ripon & Leeds) had been part of a diocesan group "to find ways of deploying clergy in ways that would maximise mission and growth. . . Were some ways were more conducive than others?" The group could not find "answers to these and difficult questions", and she hoped that the Task Group envisaged in the motion would do some research in this area.

"Without knowledge of what works or what doesn't, we can't describe our mission, our ministry, or our evangelism as intentional."

The Revd Angus MacLeay (Rochester) proposed an amendment calling for the task group to include representatives of the mission agencies, such as CPAS or the Church Army. "We want people . . . not driven by pragmatics, numbers, or anything like that." "There is great expertise there: let's draw upon it."

Shayne Ardron (Leicester) said that her parish had had a mission statement for years, but had only recently "developed mission values".They regularly heard comments that newcomers were made to feel welcome: "It's not what we do: it's the way that we do it." There was "no point doing mission if we're not going to welcome those who will come through the door", she said.

The Revd Philip North (London) spoke of the vast white-majority estates in Sunderland and the Midlands, where the Christian presence had been "vanquished". The "absolutely vital" question was "Why is evangelism failing the poor?" Materials produced by the Church assumed a high level of literacy. The Church also assumed stable families.

Church-plants were often set up in areas of "low-hanging fruit". Also, the parish that he had left on an estate in the north of England had been vacant for two-and-a-half years, while a job near Paddington, in London, had attracted 123 applicants. The "battle for the Christian soul of the nation" would not be won in Guildford or Kensington, but on large urban estates.

It was important to develop "context-appropriate techniques", and to focus on transforming not just individuals, but communities. The emphasis on social justice must be more prominent in the paper. The Revd Stephen Pratt (Lichfield) brought a "friendly amendment". There was a danger that the PCC could "spend the bulk of their time discussing evangelism, but not getting out and doing any".There was a need for a "national strategy to change the culture of the Church of England". The amendment would encourage people "not just to talk, but to try".

Dr Richard Goudie (Durham) was encouraged by the ways in which evangelism had been strengthened by ecumenical partnership. "Where we work together, that is something which can be very powerful to change perception." He wanted to make a "plea to look for opportunities to cross barriers of churchmanship at a local level".

Zahida Mallard (Bradford) spoke as "a first-generation convert and disciple of Christ". She was therefore "somehow perturbed" to see that in the report there was a reference to "disciples (rather than converts)". She said: "We are part of the community that makes up the Church of England. . . If culture is to change and evolve, it needs to include those voices of converts."

Dr Gavin Oldham (Oxford) spoke of the Church as the vehicle that "passes the baton of faith on to the next generation". The chart produced by Professor David Voas, of the University of Essex, showing religious affiliation by year of birth, showed that this work had been done "spectacularly badly": fewer than five per cent of the under-30s recognised the Church of England as their affiliation.

It was "not good enough" to blame growing wariness and antipathy towards faith. He argued: "If the vehicle is running on wonky wheels, God will act directly. . . Surely we can help God better." Priority needed to be given to engaging with young people - not just children, but 20- and 30-year-olds.

The Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, said that the key today was discipleship, because "there is a great deal of residual faith around." There was a noticeable decline in the "self-preserving part of the Church", he said, compared with the "growth amongst visionary and less defensive" parts.

The Synod then worked through the amendments. Supporting Mr MacLeay's amendment calling for the inclusion of staff from mission agencies and people with a "proven record" in evangelism "at local level" on the Task Group, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), pointed out that a task group was different from a committee, and did not need a fixed membership.

The Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Mark Bryant (who was attending Synod in place of the Bishop of Durham during the vacancy-in-see), said that a "problem for a number of our communities" was that they had a "real desire for evangelism, but very little resources". He said that it was "important that the Task Group hears from people with experience of where resources are very thin".

The amendment was carried.

Mr Pratt's amendment called for "every local church" to try at least one new way of making disciples in 2014. Supporting it, Christine Corteen (Salisbury) spoke of the Hope 2014 initiative encouraging churches to "get into communities and join with what God is doing".

The Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. Clive Mansell (Rochester), also supported the amendment, because it "adds something that is graspable at the local level". When he had been a parish priest, he had introduced a standing item on each PCC agenda, "Mission Matters".

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, supported the amendment, because it included the phrase "appropriate to their local context". He said that "the resources that we have are the people who have a story to tell, but what language do we ask them to tell that story in?" The north was a "different country", and "some of the stories that come from the south are not appropriate."

The amendment was carried.

Debate resumed on the main motion as amended. Canon Dagmar Winter (Newcastle) welcomed the report and its appreciation of the part played by academic theology. But she expressed concern about "getting into the Golden Age narrative", which implied that there was a time when the Church was "full of committed disciples who could not wait to discuss the gospel".

This "middle-class manifesto of the Christian life" was not "necessarily what we should be aiming for, anyway". From the earliest days of the Church, there had been a "core of people who were fragile vessels or cracked pots, who spread the gospel", and others who were "encouraged by the message and involved in all sorts of good stuff - personal neighbourliness, community activism, leading good lives, and raising families". This latter group were "sometimes seen by the core as not quite properly committed Christians".

She said: "I share the concern about not reaching people, but my anxiety is that, in our zeal, we do not let go of a spirit of generosity, and alienate those who appear on the periphery, [and say] that if they are not quite in, they are out."

The Revd Mark Ireland (Lichfield) supported the motion, but warned that the Synod was being asked to "will the end, without agreeing the means", because the "Synod is not being asked to approve a budget for the task group.

"The danger is that we end up with a high-power church committee without anybody with the ability to lead on this important issue between meetings," he said. "If we are going to see lasting change, there will be a real cost."

The Revd Catherine Nightingale (Deaf Church Conference) supported the motion, but said that it could have been broadened out to include groups such as Deaf Anglicans and Fresh Expressions, in addition to PCCs and deaneries.

The motion, as amended, was overwhelmingly carried:

That this Synod, in the light of the priority of evangelism and making new disciples:

(a) support the formation of an Archbishops' Task Group on Evangelism with the terms of reference and timetable as set out in GS1917 and urge that its membership include:

(i) staff of Anglican home mission agencies with expertise in helping local churches engage in effective evangelism and disciple-making, and

(ii) those with a proven record in those disciplines at local level;

(b) call upon the Task Group to make its first priority a new call to prayer;

(c) commend to the Task Group an initial programme for its work around the seven disciplines of evangelisation as set out in the same paper;

(d) call upon every diocesan and deanery synod and every PCC to spend the bulk of one meeting annually and some part of every meeting focusing on sharing experiences and initiatives for making new disciples; and

(e) urge every local church in 2014 prayerfully to try at least one new way, appropriate to their local context, of seeking to make new disciples of Jesus Christ.

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