2015 will be remembered as the year of the refugee crisis — although in reality it was the year that a crisis that began in 2011 forced itself on European attention. Domestic complaints about employment, housing, the economy, and the rest were necessarily muted in the light of the thousands each day who were risking their lives to reach Europe and safety.
For this reason, and for other internal causes, 2015 was a quiet year for the Church of England. The first women bishops slipped into post in a way that left many wondering what the fuss had been about. And the facilitated conversations about sexuality acted as a pressure valve, albeit a temporary one, in a debate that has the potential to replace women’s ordination as a source of disruption and conflict.
Looking ahead, the first test of whether the sexuality issue is nearer agreement or merely dormant comes in ten days’ time, when Archbishop Welby gathers all the Primates (and one representative of disaffected Anglicans in North America) in Canterbury to consider the future of the Communion. Later in the year, the General Synod will discuss lessons learnt in the shared conversations, in the hope that some form of agreement, or, at least, accommodation, might be found in the matter of same-sex relationships.
The Church’s stance on same-sex marriage has convinced many, however erroneously, of its homophobia; and there must be a less arbitrary way to decide the future of a priest whose relationship is deemed acceptable in a civil partnership but not in a marriage, or in one diocese but not in another.
Another issue to watch out for is the handling of abuse cases. Before Christmas, evensong-goers heard again Malachi’s condemnation of a corrupt and unfaithful priesthood. Unless the C of E deals swiftly, openly, and fairly with survivors, perpetrators, and those unjustly accused, it faces having a shadow of suspicion cast over the whole of its priesthood, as has happened in the Roman Catholic Church.
Then there is the reform and renewal programme, introduced at the start of 2015, and ready to progress to more practical action in the year ahead. It will succeed if it manages to refocus churches’ attention on their servant-ministry to the communities around them; it won’t if it doesn’t.
Each year, though, brings its challenges, and the most exacting are the ones that cannot be predicted. Our readers will not be surprised if we encourage them to enter the year with a new resolve to pray for the Church and its leaders — that it might faithfully mediate Christ’s love to the world, bearing in mind the message of the Magi’s visit: that God’s love is already active in the world at large. Christians can set a good example by dealing with internal strife in a spirit of love and humility, but they will benefit equally from some of the examples that already exist outside the Church’s borders.