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Renewal and Reform programme the Church's 'rock and anchor' in changing world

15 July 2016

Sam Atkins

THE Synod commended the paper A Vision and Narrative for Renewal and Reform (GS 2038) after a debate on Saturday afternoon.

Renewal and Reform represented a vast and fluid form of work, said the Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Cherry Vann (Manchester), introducing the debate. “It is about being the Church God calls us to be, to do the work calls us to do.”

Reports on the work had been brought for consideration and debate, and this had helped to shape the work of the task groups. Renewal and Reform would be the “rock and anchor” for the Church in a changing world. “It is not about fixing the Church,” she cautioned. But it was about transforming communities, “making and nurturing disciples, as well as challenging injustice and seeking the common good”.

The vision was one of equality, which would be worked out within individual parishes, taking into account their context and needs as well as their own diversities and visions: it was not a “One programme fits all” solution, but a framework. Each diocese would in turn need to be resourceful and creative, she said.

Renewal and Reform would also seek to avoid an “overly secular management style” that the C of E has sometimes adopted, although there was nothing to fear in managing the Church’s resources. Growing in numbers was a part of this, as well as growing in hope, faith, love, and discipleship, both diversely and creatively. The task group was already well into its work.

This was a good start, but where was the mention of God’s Kingdom, asked Shayne Ardron (Leicester). There was much talk of preparing leaders for the next generation, but where was the vision for Kingdom of God here? People were often invited to church for activities, but the purpose seemed to be forgotten: to invite people to know God, not just the Church. “There is a desire for spirituality in the world. We do not have a monopoly on God.”

God was not confined to Church. “The world is waking up to see the importance of Kingdom values, even if it doesn’t see it like that,” she continued. “Renewal and Reform must go beyond the boundaries of the Church.”

The Church is the engine, not the goal, and this should be reflected in senior leadership. She was disappointed that the vision report did not reflect “what is really going on”. Elements need to be picked out in order to see the vision of God more clearly again.

The Revd Catherine Pickford (Newcastle) said that, as an inner-city priest, she had seen communities abandoned: youth services stopped, parks falling into disrepair, and even churches threatened with closure. “We know the work of God is not restricted to the Church, but it is not surprising that people feel abandoned by God in these times,” she said.

She was encouraged by the report: it would support the inner-city churches that were vital for housing foodbanks and supporting community projects. “We must show people that we are there, whether it is financially viable or not.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, supported the motion as “foundational and essential”. The diocese of Liverpool was moving with the grain of the National Church because of it, he said. Renewal and Reform was non-prescriptive and gave a sense of alignment: “one big Church doing one big thing in diverse ways”.

This vision should not be optional: were they not all aligned with the direction of the Church which they had reinforced and pushed forward, he asked. “Dialogue and conversation are hugely valuable, but what we do needs to be sharpened as we learn from one another.”

Giving a critique of other people’s work is not grown up, he concluded; it was the making, learning, and moving on from mistakes which the Church needed to do.

Alexandra Podd (Church of England Youth Council), who is 20, said that the report “makes her really happy”. The workers were few, and they needed to pull in the resources they had, she said. “The opportunities I have been given through the Church have shaped me. I am your generation; we are the Church of today as much as the Church of tomorrow.”

Young people should not be seen as a token, but should be asked their opinion of what was happening, and what they could do. “Young people do get things wrong, but so do we all. Do not ignore the young people we have already.”

Debra Walker (Liverpool) reflected that at the centre of the Renewal and Reform programme was an identity exercise. She gave the example of the Israelites’ returning from exile without a king or a temple, having come from a sophisticated nation to occupied Palestine “vulnerable and few in number”. Either the Church could hold together “separately and distinctly” to protect identity and prevent its being diluted, or it could grow from experience and meeting other people and learn to do things differently.

“In the post-Brexit reality, we must use our strong resources to understand the times we are living in,” she said. “We have been prepared for this, because we have documented our own struggles towards identity building.” They might have lost their identity as a Church, but they have gained a mission, she concluded.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) welcomed the paper as a “straightforward story easily told”. He wanted to issue a reminder that the Church was “full of extremely good things”. He felt that “much of narrative here works with ‘Come to Jesus, then go to church.” They belonged together, but “for many people the way you come into a closer walk with Christ is actually coming into church. Do not lose sight of that corporate heart.”

The Revd Wyn Beynon (Worcester) said that the mission imperative included pastoral care, which was “not present in that narrative in a clear enough way to satisfy me”. He spoke on the Four Marks of the Church, and of the importance of contemplative prayer and mystical theology, and was critical of the “rather disastrous illusion of leadership that has enchanted our discussion for so long”, and the “nonsense of the Green report”.

There was a “need to get to a new place of understanding about what it means to be human”, including the need to be inclusive of LGBTI people, the poor, the disabled, and “those who are ethnically marginalised”. He said: “Are we inclusive Church? If not, we are not being renewed or reformed.”

The Revd Dagmar Winter (Newcastle) spoke of the importance of church schools and education. There was a need for investment in leadership and attracting staff and heads to church schools.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) suggested that the word “leaders” be replaced with “disciples”, which was a “more encouraging word”, particularly for lay people discovering their gifts.

Hannah Grivell (Derby) referred to similar initiatives tried in the past. “Each time there is such enthusiasm, desire, and debate, then a lack of interest for those it is aimed at; the Church has still not grown, and we are back to square one.” She did not want to be having the same discussion in 40 years.

She believed that the reason these previous initiatives had not worked was because “very little consultation has taken place before they are implemented, if at all. It is extremely poor business practice not to understand your market, and this is why they have almost never been successful.”

This was particularly true of those aimed at young people. At her own liberal Catholic church, the robed choir had added to its number seven young people and an adult, and most had gone on to be confirmed. “We have got to stop telling people what they need and want, and start asking what helps you grow in faith and come to church every week.”

The Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh (Universities and TEIs) looked back at previous periods of reform, but also of revival and restoration — two words that she wanted to add to the vision. “Renewal and Reform is not just about making things better but about calling the Church back to something essential at the heart of our life; calling us back to our first love. . . I want us not to lose sight of the riches and depth that those words, along with ‘revival’ and ‘restoration’, have held throughout the generations past, and the fruits they have born for the Church and our generation.”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, suggested that “We have missed successive harvests, and forgotten how to do evangelism and mission well.” On the topic of workers, he felt that “We, today, have not been good examples of what workers in the vineyard are supposed to be like. My own version would be: we have missed the harvest, and the workers have locked themselves inside a barn, and are arguing over what colour to paint the combine harvester.” He compared it to “The horse has bolted; now let’s have a discussion about whether to bolt the stable door or not.”

There were thousands “growing up with little or no knowledge of the Christian gospel. We need to find different ways of engaging with different cultures.”

The motion “That this Synod welcome the vision and narrative for Renewal and Reform as set out in GS 2038 and commend it as a framework for the implementation of Renewal and Reform across the Church” was carried.

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