Boots on the ground — but to what end? More on the Church’s health

by
21 February 2014

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From Professor Richard Bauckham

Sir, - The series of articles by Professor Linda Woodhead (Church Health Check, 31 January, and 7 and 14 February) is invaluable for the information that she draws from her surveys. But her value-judgements and recommendations are strongly affected by her understanding of what the Church essentially is. It seems important to highlight this, because her view is certainly not uncontroversial.

Professor Woodhead evidently works with a notion of the Church as essentially a national institution (with the clergy as institutional officials) that exists to perform certain functions for society as a whole. So she considers baptisms, weddings, and funerals "the Church's core business".

A Church without congregations (which she imagines for the sake of argument) would apparently still be a Church. The people who really matter are the clergy, and a wide range of people who do not attend worship, but value the institution for all sorts of reasons, such as the part that it plays in conserving heritage. Committed believers and regular worshippers seem to be almost a liability, because they may distract the institution from meeting those expectations.

This view of the Church is in part sociological (it is very important to Professor Woodhead that the Church be what sociologists define as a "Church" rather than a "sect"), and in part an attempt to hold on to some remnants of a traditional Anglican vision of the Church - those that still linger in society as a whole when most people no longer attend worship or even care much about the Church at all. But a Church whose core business is baptisms, weddings, and funerals is actually very different from the traditional Anglican vision of a Church whose core business was the worship of God and the proclamation of the gospel.

Professor Woodhead's approach is one way of responding to the demise of Christendom. Another is to recognise that the Church is the people of God whose identity lies in their commitment to Jesus Christ (which is what their baptism entails). It is the community of those who worship him together and dedicate themselves to living for him both in their life together as a community and in their life of witness and service in the world. Of course, the Church needs leadership, and it must, by its very nature, be orientated outwards to the rest of society. But what it is is the people of God.

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These are theological issues that really matter if we are to know how to make use of all the excellent material that the Church Times is currently providing in its Church Health Check.

RICHARD BAUCKHAM

11 Archway Court

Cambridge CB3 9LW

 

From Miss Prudence Dailey

Sir, - In arguing that the General Synod is "clumsy, dysfunctional, and dangerous", the Revd Philip North (Church Health Check, 7 February) appears to have misunderstood its purpose.

He bemoans the fact that the General Synod spends so much of its time concentrating on the internal minutiae of church governance; but it is the governing body of the Church of England, and church governance is its core purpose. The Synod is at its worst when making grandiose pronouncements on matters on which it has neither influence nor expertise, such as international conflict, welfare reform, or climate change: we kid ourselves that the world at large is hanging on our every word, whereas in fact the best we can hope for, if we are lucky, is a couple of column-inches of inaccurate reporting in the secular press. Of course, such issues are of great concern to Christians and to the Church, but the General Synod is not the Church, and would do well to remember it.

Mr North is clearly impatient with the decentralised and sometimes untidy inherited structures of the Church, which allow space for diversity and individuality, and in many of their manifestations continue to weave the Established Church into the historic fabric of our national life. Instead, he seems to long for a centralised command-and-control system presided over by a kindof episcopal Politburo, riding roughshod over the parish clergy, who in turn ride roughshod over the laity.

It does not seem to have occurred to him that, when people are resistant to change that is being urged on them from above, there can sometimes be very good reasons why such changes should be resisted. And, when change is needed, the way to deal with resistance at local level is through patience, magnanimity, and relationship-building, however frustrating that may at times be.

The great value of the Synod's quasi-parliamentary process,which Mr North also deplores, is that it gives the Synod real teeth, making it possible for the representatives of the clergy and laity to have a substantive influence on the outcome of debates, to the extent even of defeating the "Establishment" agenda on occasion. Anyone seeking to imagine what the General Synod might look like without such procedures might contemplate the average diocesan synod, where the appearance of consensus is achieved throughwhat is in effect a talking-shop, leaving little room for dissent to have any practical effect on decisions.

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Mr North is quite right that the Church faces an impending crisis in an increasingly secular world, but it stretches credulity to claim that reform of the processes of the General Synod could be part of the solution.

PRUDENCE DAILEY

Member of General Synod

9 Spring Lane

Littlemore

Oxford OX3 9EW

 

From the Revd Mark Bailey

Sir, - Professor Linda Woodhead's piece "Not enough boots on the ground" (Church Health Check, 7 February) highlights a concern felt for some time by a number of us working in diocesan counselling services: the number of clergy leaving the profession.

The fact that this number now exceeds those retiring emphasises the need for more research in order to understand this trend. Questions need to be asked about how many leave after a "failed curacy"; how many leave as a result of stress-related illness; and, perhaps most importantly, which dioceses are "losing" the most.

MARK BAILEY

The Rectory, 6 Green Close

South Wonston

Winchester

SO21 3EE

 

From the Revd Keith Denerley

Sir, - Among Dave Walker's five dozen or so fun icons of church activities on the cover of the Church Times (14 February), I looked in vain for altar, chalice, or paten.

How easy it is to forget that the Church's chief end is to "offer up spiritual sacrifices" in the sheer joy of worship!

KEITH DENERLEY

1 The Pales

English Bicknor

Glos. GL16 7PQ

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