The call to minister to England

21 April 2017

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THE Prime Minister spoke boldly over Easter about the continuing im­­portance of Christian values in shap­­ing society. She sees a direct link between the Christian faith as histor­ically re­­ceived and the free­dom and tol­erance we enjoy.

There is a particular challenge here for the Church of England in understanding what it means to be the Church of England. It is a topic to which current church leadership seems to give little thought. Renewal and Reform is its best idea — a dis­mal strategy for rewarding bids for numerical growth with large dol­lops of the Church Commissioners’ money, while letting poorer chur­ches floun­der and die.

At the same time, the Church has abandoned any attempt at liturgical coherence, depriving new Christians and the young of the traditions that enable stability and depth. The Church appeals to context and ar­­gues for diversity; but this is rarely the national context, and the divers­ity often seems manufactured to give an impression of inclusiveness while marginalising the worshipper who has any real sense of history. The initiative Thy Kingdom Come is vague enough to be unobjectionable, but there is no obvious attempt to articulate what this might mean for England. (Thy Kingdom come here? Surely not!)

There is, of course, a genuine hor­ror of nationalism. We are sensitive to the takeover of the flag of St George by the far Right. The English do not get excited about their na­­tional heritage in the way the other British nations do. The Church seems so often em­­barrassed at its deep links with the State, but at the same time takes its privileged status for granted in an unthinking way that irritates others. There is also a proper con­cern for our pos­ition in the An­­glican Communion, but it is ludic­rous for this to be an ex­­cuse for failing in our national mission.

Ignoring the call to minister to England is at best unwise, at worst an abandonment of the only voca­tion we can truly claim. The C of E cannot be anything other than what it is: a Church with a mission and min­­istry to the particular places, communities, and histories that constitute England.

It is time to question the bland, media-wise, anywhere worship that knows nothing of Cranmer or Hooker or even Common Worship. In the wake of Brexit, and with the increasingly likely break-up of the UK, the Church should put its energies into preparing for a very different Eng­land, which may be smaller, hum­bler, and possibly poorer than any­thing we have ever known. It would be tragic if the C of E were still found to be banging the drum for its fantasy brand of culture-light Christianity while ab­an­­­doning the continuities that still give it credibility.

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