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
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
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