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Church-growth tips: health, and the heave-ho

10 July 2015


From the Revd Paul Holley

Sir, — I was struck that each of the “Tales from the church bread line” (Features, 26 June) outlined how ill-health had laid the trail towards poverty. Bad backs, depression, chronic conditions, and accidents sapped people’s capacity for work and weakened their ability to manage their circumstances.

Subsequently, the articles about church growth (Features, 3 July) searched for insight into our missio Dei, our capacity to be church, and the interests of the people we serve. These interests appear to be increasingly distanced from the life of faith and church community. What might one set of stories say to the other?

It is not just that we may take note of the many church-based projects up and down the country which are responding to the challenge of poor health — and, indeed, there are countless examples of innovative clinics, support groups, and health-promotion activities on church premises. Rather, it is that we now have experience to incorporate a contemporary understanding of the “health of the person” into what is our mission.

To do this, we might usefully consider changing notions of suffering made possible by contemporary life. We have shifted from a faith immersed in the virtue of suffering to one that abhors suffering. This is true of our rights-based politics, our optimistic medical philosophy, and our exasperation about inequalities. We have also to face up to the value of flesh in mediating what is spirit. Our preference for addressing mind and emotion diminishes the sheer physicality of personhood. Do we dismiss the body as merely temporal?

Our Gospels are almost overrun with stories of the clamour for health in body and mind. Our society may well feel like that too. How about in our churches?


Co-ordinator, Anglican Health Network 

Founder, Our Health Forum

The Vicarage, Colbury

Southampton SO40 7EH


From Mr John R. Turner

Sir, — The cathedrals are doing well with young and old because, in the main, they act professionally and considerately, treating their adherents as adults, and also because the eucharist is not the only service available.

Part of the problem elsewhere could be that a priest may have charge of four or more churches. Even then, it might be hoped that with the assistance of Readers and retired priests the preaching will be memorable, inspiring, and penetrating; that substantial and wide-ranging biblical extracts will be presented authoritatively by someone who has mastered public speaking; that the prayers will have shape and spiritual insight; that the words and music of the hymns will rise above any lazy, tedious, and very temporary secular culture; that there will be a palpable seriousness (even urgency) of intent; and that the officiating priest or reader will be identifiable by his or her attire. The hymn-writer the late Canon C. V. Taylor said that any church service should be a feast of good things.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, has a further recipe for growth: “get rid of the dynasty of people who have run the church for the last 40 years; persuade them to stand down.” Such “persuasion” has long been fairly widespread, and has seldom brought lasting growth. Perhaps the Bishop and his like-minded allies think that getting rid of dedicated people, whose families might have given service to their church for generations, is a price worth paying. Some of the “dynasty” will abandon church attendance. Some will immediately rewrite their wills.

Does the Bishop have in mind an approximate age beyond which parishioners should start to worry about the impending “honouring of their contribution” in the manner he recommends?


1 Cathkin Road, Rutherglen, Glasgow G73 4SE

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