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The future of the Church is in doing good, say Archbishops

22 December 2016

SHEFFIELD MANOR PARISH

Festive cheer: parishioners enjoy a Christmas meal at the at the William Temple Lunch club, in the Manor Parish, Sheffield

Festive cheer: parishioners enjoy a Christmas meal at the at the William Temple Lunch club, in the Manor Parish, Sheffield

THE future of Christianity in Britain lies in “doing good”, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, have written.

In a foreword to a report by the think tank Theos, Doing Good: A Future for Christianity in the 21st Century, the Archbishops said that, although the Church continued to decline numerically, it was taking part in more and more social action — from foodbanks to debt-counselling and street pastors.

”The Church continues today to demonstrate the unquenchable love of God on an enormous scale,” they wrote. “The report’s idea of ‘Christian social liturgy’ expresses how Christians can combine their fidelity to the two greatest com­mandments — loving God and loving their neighbour — in a way that is simultaneously distinctive and inclusive.”

The report, by Nick Spencer, marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of Theos by Archbishop Welby’s and Cardinal Nichols’s predecessors, in 2006. It was published last week.

In the report, Mr Spencer argues that a marriage between social actions and “priestly service” should characterise the next ten years of Christianity in the UK.

As the numbers of those attend­ing church services have continued to decline since 2006, research suggests that social action by Christians and churches has grown over the same period. “There may be fewer people on pews,” Mr Spencer wrote, “but there are many more running luncheon clubs, and mums and toddlers’ groups, and foodbanks, and homeless charities, and debt-advice centres, and drop-in centres, and the like. Christians are ‘doing good’.”

Rather than return to the early-20th-century idea of the “social gospel”, which was well-intentioned but ultimately became too detached from faith of any sort, Mr Spencer suggested a new model of a “social liturgy”.

The Greek word at the root of “liturgy” does not just mean church worship, but “both priestly service within the Temple and public charitable activity”; thus, social liturgy is just “another way of worshipping God in public”, Mr Spencer wrote.

Parishioners across Britain needed to think of tithing not just their money, but their time, and their talents, too, to put this vision into practice, he argued.

At the same time, a greater degree of religious literacy was needed to “calm secular nerves”, he wrote, and to show that a more pro-active Church was not a threat to an increasingly irreligious society.

“It is, in short, a big ask,” Mr Spencer concluded. “But to do it would not only help change the script about Christianity in con­temporary Britain, but also, per­haps, bring the life of churches close to that of the earliest Church.”

In their foreword, Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols wrote that, in the end, the future of the Church in Britain rested in the hands of the God of the resurrec­tion. “For this reason we are firmly convinced that as Christians seek to embody the love of Christ in their service across the country, that future is one about which we can be full of hope.”

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