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A Church for England

28 February 2014

Anna Norman-Walker believes that, for the institution to thrive, it may need to die first

I AM due to retire in 20 years' time. It is very likely that my generation, and those who come after us, will have to ride the wave of the collapse of the Church of England in its present form.

Short of an unprecedented Anglican revival, the demand on us to adapt and change is unavoidable. So, I ponder the sort of Church of England that I would like to retire from serving. It would be one that had survived the painful transition from the centre to the edge - yet was fruitful and distinctive enough be a credible player in society, and known as a force for good. A "Church for England", at the very least.

Buildings - our great white elephant
WE WILL continue to offer sacred spaces through many of our ancient buildings, but these spaces will be used creatively and flexibly. Rural churches will be places to mark life's journey, and celebrate the seasonal festivals, with local market-town "minsters" continuing to offer the wider ministry of the Church's life, supporting and enabling locally disseminated mission.

Many urban churches also will have become servants of community life, but in different ways, hosting libraries, night shelters, day nurseries, cafés, and pubs.

Some will continue to serve the worshipping communities that gather there, but "churches" will be found in a whole variety of places, not least within networks of human community, unrestrained by geography.

Worship and witness - our purpose
THERE will be High, Low, and somewhere-in-the-middle churches - critically, their shared identity will be found in being outward-looking centres of mission whose life of worship, witness and service is diverse, intergenerational, multi-coloured, and refuses to ignore the poor. Cathedrals will have adopted a stronger identity as "mother churches", not only as centres of excellence in worship, but as a critical, educational, and evangelistic arm of the wider Church, and playing a vital part in civic life.

We will be widely known as communities of prayer, where all are welcome, and where Christ is shared in word and sacrament. We will be communities where people laugh loudly, live well, and shout out in one voice against injustice in all its forms. And our voice will be heard.

That, at its most basic level, is how I would like to see the Church of England expressing its life whenI retire in 2036, but it is hard to imagine how we might get there when our structures and finances militate against it.

Radical and courageous leadership will surely help. The swallowing of a "reality pill" by the Victorian Society, English Heritage, and even the Government may strengthen the hope of our buildings' genuinely serving future society in any meaningful way, other than as museums.

Ultimately, I have little fear for the future life of the body of Christ in our nation in 20 years' time. People will continue to fall for Jesus, and witness to his love and mercy effectively in community, and many will be doing it in an Anglican way.

Some may even be beneficiaries of generous local "grants for mission" from the structure that rises from the ashes of the old Church of England.

Prebendary Anna Norman-Walker is Canon Missioner of Exeter Cathedral.

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