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Different visions of the Church’s future

28 February 2014

"SOMEONE had blundered." In one of our pieces about where the Church of England might go next, the author recalls the Charge of the Light Brigade as a warning against pursuing the wrong vision. By deliberately choosing a wide range of authors for this last instalment of our health check, we present readers with a similarly large range of visions. Professor Woodhead suggests that different traditions within the Church distance themselves from each other and pursue the vision that suits them best. Other authors produce a composite vision that might do for all traditions, or promote a particular vision that they argue, is the one that will turn the Church around.

Readers will naturally warm to the remedies that accord with their own spirituality and ecclesiology, but the point is that all the suggestions here have merit. Attention to the Bible, diligence in the sacraments, a deepening holiness, more effective social action, a willingness to unite with those outside the Anglican fold, a radical slimming down of bureaucracy, creativity in worship, the pursuit of theological understanding, intelligent shared leadership, joyful friendliness - each of these on its own would be the mark of a church's health. It is together, though, that they form the characteristics of a thriving national Church, which is what the Church of England still strives to be.

We are drawn back to St Paul's image of the Church as the body of Christ, made up of different members with different gifts, but inseparable to the extent that all will suffer harm if any is severed. And there is not one of these gifts that is not being practised within the Church of England today. These are the grounds for optimism expressed by most of our contributors - and for frustration that the Church is still so far away from where it might be. This is not just an impression, a question of poor PR, remedied by ignoring criticism and accentuating the positive. There have been too many blunders; there are too many dysfunctional bits of the institution, and we hear from too many unhappy workers within it, not least among the bishops and clergy. Gifts are not nurtured, poor performance is unchecked, pastoral opportunities are neglected, and - continually - the Church's reputation is damaged. The purpose of our series was to expose those things that hinder growth - spiritual growth as well as numerical - and to help the Church to focus on ways to free the gifts that are too often being frustrated. Vision is important, for without it the various programmes and mission action plans detailed here are simply extra burdens. But what would the Church not be able to do if it held before it at all times the vision of Christ's love for his people?

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