A CHURCH anxious about numerical decline must turn its attention to its inner life, the Superior of the Community of the Resurrection has suggested.
Fr George Guiver CR called for a renewed emphasis on God, worship, and prayer. The Church was “weak” on the latter, he said.
“There is a lot of anxiety in the Church about declining numbers and new strategies, but new life is going to come from within, from the heart of the person, and that will be attractive to people,” he said. “To be a full human being is at the heart of what monastic life is about, and it’s the person coming to know themselves and other people through a journey with God; so God and worship and prayer are absolutely fundamental, and that isn’t always the case in church life as a whole.”
While he welcomed engagement with strategies to address decline, he warned that they “won’t really get anywhere without engagement with deeper issues about who we are as a person, and how we are with God, and how we are as communities. There is a lot of emphasis on strategies, but not enough emphasis on the life of the Church, so that there is something worth coming to join.”
He was speaking after the annual Conference of Leaders of Anglican Religious Communities, which gathered at Mirfield earlier this month.
The Community of the Resurrection has declined in number from more than 60 when he joined, 33 years ago, to 19 today — which was “infinitely better”, he said (20 to 25 was an “optimum number”). But there was also evidence of a new interest in monastic life, including an increase in enquiries, due, he thinks both to the internet and the media — “people realise it isn’t as weird as they might have thought” — but also to an “ever-more anxious search for meaning and community”.
The “new monasticism” movement was “very interesting”, he said. But it was “too early to say what the significance of them is”. The rise of the movement reflected, he said, “the failure of the parish to meet what people are looking for”.
He compared mission to courtship — “attracting people, enabling people to hear” — that must then move on to mature commitment.
“When you commit yourselves to one another as a couple, then life should not depend on what you are getting out of it all the time. It’s the same with the Church. . . We don’t know what our needs are, and we need to come to a level of commitment which makes us open to surprises and open to learning.”
The Church was “weak on prayer”, he thought. “People don’t have high enough standards about prayer.” There was a tendency to pray individually, and yet “it has to be a corporate endeavour. . . And it isn’t any old prayer. It’s prayer within what you might call the repertoire of Christianity over 2000 years.
“It’s just the same with music and language: you need to gain a sense of its history and tradition in order to understand how to take it forward, and we are weak on that.”
Prayer and the religious life is one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s three priorities. In 2014, he invited four members of Chemin Neuf to live at Lambeth Palace (News, 22 November 2013); and, last year, the Community of Anselm was established (Back-page interview, 6 March 2015). The Archbishop has said that there will be no renewal of the Church without a renewal in the religious life (News, 4 April, 2014).
Fr George remains optimistic about the religious life in Britain: there was new life around, and “things sometimes have to die down and have a new start.”