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A matter of confidence

28 February 2014

The Church of England needs to emphasise youth, unity, evangelism, faithfulness - and speed, says Graham Tomlin

OVER the next 20 years, we should aim to have a healthy, attractive, outward-looking Anglican Christian community within reach of every person or household in England.

We might imagine a national Church confident enough in the gospel to offer a more communal, and less individualistic, vision of life than that of the society around it, using its voice in favour of the disadvantaged, and building a reputation for locally based action.

It would have representatives capable of making the case for Christian faith publicly. I hope, by then, we will also have found healthy ways to live together with our disagreements over women bishops, gay marriage, and whatever issues come up in 2034.

What needs to happen to bring this about? For a start, the parish system will need further adaptation, as has happened throughout its history, to make innovation less difficult. Church partnerships, where larger churches partner with struggling ones to renew old buildings, and reinvigorate congregations - as has happened, for example, with Holy Trinity, Brompton, and its network - will be part of the story.

Churches of any tradition that experience growth need to be encouraged, and enabled to reproduce that life in other contexts, with government grants to help maintain and renew the national heritage of ancient church buildings.

At the same time, smaller, ground-up, indigenous-led plants also need to be encouraged. We hear too many stories of new church-plants or Fresh Expressions that have to endure endless energy- and vision-sapping committees, and legal processes. Due scrutiny and consultation are good, but when they slow down progress to a snail's pace, the process needs to be simplified.

CONFIDENT, creative evangelism needs to become much more part of the church's natural modus vivendi. Alpha has been one of the most remarkable gifts from the Church of England to the worldwide Church over the past few decades.

We need the same urgency and vision that created Alpha to keep adapting it for a fast-changing world, create imaginative new path-ways for people to find faith in the future, and be more deliberate about training younger Anglicans as public apologists.

Speaking of youth - the average age of a British Muslim is 25, while that of Anglicans is about 61. Research tells us that, to attract young people, you need younger priests. We need to attract younger ordinands, and build systems of training that enable them effectively to complete curacies alongside initial training, so they are able to move into leadership and incum-bency positions earlier.

And, in all this, unity is vital. We need strong Catholic and Evangelical churches, each with their own strengths, working missionally and as friends. And that means training our ordinands together more than we do at present. The depressing sniping between traditions is fatal to mission. Who would ever trust a group of people (let alone their God) who cannot resist tearing each other apart?

And do not think for a moment that it will be easy. As Henri de Lubac put it: "If the Church were more faithful to her mission, she would doubtless be the more loved, more listened to, and more persecuted."

The Revd Dr Graham Tomlin is Dean of St Mellitus College.

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