Evangelism and estates to occupy General Synod at February meeting

01 February 2019

DIOCESE OF SALISBURY

The Thy Kingdom Come beacon event at Salisbury Cathedral last year, attended by more than 1500 people. The prayer initiative is identified as a success by the Evangelism Task Group

The Thy Kingdom Come beacon event at Salisbury Cathedral last year, attended by more than 1500 people. The prayer initiative is identified as a succes...

TRANSFORMING the one million who regularly attend Church of England services into “agents of mission” is crucial to the Church’s multi-million-pound evangelism push, the General Synod will hear this month.

Unless worshippers gain confidence, the Church’s investment in buildings and ministry will simply stem decline, a new evangelism report states: “focused efforts will need to multiply and replicate confident disciples who are equipped and released to live out their faith in the whole of their lives”.

Evangelism was the “clear theme” of the agenda for the General Synod’s meeting (Wednesday to Saturday, 20-23 February), its secretary general, William Nye, told a media briefing on Friday. Members will hear from visitors from the Anglican Communion on the topic before debating motions on evangelism and discipleship, estates evangelism, and encouraging youth evangelism.

It is now more than five years since the General Synod debated “intentional evangelism” and voted to establish an Archbishops’ Task Group on Evangelism (News, 29 November 2013), which concluded last year (News, 27 May 2018). In July, the Synod ran out of time to hear its report.

Produced by Canon Chris Russell, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Evangelism and Witness, and Canon Dave Male, Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, this report sets out a vision to “motivate the million . . . enabling worshippers to move from attendees, who through the narrative of continual decline can feel disheartened and unconfident, to advocates and apprentices who are outward looking and confident in their faith and church”.

Confidence had been the topic “most mentioned” during the group’s work, the report says, noting a Lambeth Conference resolution that called for “a revolution in the attitude to the role of the laity which views every Christian as an agent of mission”.

Also quoted is a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple: “We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.”

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The “Talking Jesus” research presented to the Synod three years ago suggested that two-thirds of adult practising Christians surveyed had talked about Jesus with a non-Christian in the past month, and that only about a quarter felt uncomfortable doing so (News, 6 November 2015). But on Tuesday, Canon Male said that “all the other research we have says this [confidence] is a big issue.”

He pointed to a 2012 Evangelical Alliance survey of its panel, of whom 48 per cent said that they were “too scared to talk about my faith with non-Christians”, and 42 per cent did not feel “well-equipped or trained”. Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) said that “none of my non-Christian contacts seem interested in talking about spiritual things.”

There was “widespread anecdotal” evidence that confidence was an obstacle, he said. “As we have talked to church leaders and bishops, that is the word that seems to resonate with everyone.”

Asked whether a focus on confidence meant that other potential obstacles — the content of the message being given, or the gap between those communicating it and wider society — were overlooked, he agreed that “there are other factors . . . but I do think it’s really important, because if you haven’t got confidence in what you are saying, we are in trouble.”

The report highlights the “Talking Jesus” research, but does not draw attention to one of the more challenging findings: after a conversation with a Christian about his or her faith, 42 per cent of non-Christians said that they felt glad not to share that faith; and 30 per cent said that they felt more negatively about Jesus.

Asked whether people had valid concerns about talking about their faith, Mr Nye suggested that confidence was the most pressing challenge for worshippers: “Amongst a good number there are a whole series of culturally inherited English reticence, English nervousness, ‘You don’t talk about politics and religion’, things like that. . . What we are trying to do is inculcate a confidence which allows people to be more invitational . . . and not feel ‘The moment I say that, I am going to be asked for my view on theories of the atonement,’ or, alternatively, ‘I am going to be asked to set myself up in an argument with Richard Dawkins.’”

People felt comfortable inviting people to carol services during Advent and Christmas, he said.

Asked what had changed since the Decade of Evangelism, he said: “My sense is this is something that the whole Church, almost the whole Church, has seized on. . . The Decade of Evangelism actually led to some good things, but the good things took a long time to flower. Fresh expressions and pioneer ministry those are great things, but they took a long time to come through.”

Canon Male said that people could be reassured by research that had “made it very clear that people in this country are not antagonistic towards the Church”.

“The good news is that some small behavioural changes for our million regular attenders could make a huge difference,” the report says. “If one additional person in 50 from our regular attenders invited someone to a church event and subsequently they started attending it would totally reverse our present decline. Nationally, the Church would grow by 16,000 people per year, offsetting the current net loss of 14,000.”

Among the task group’s recommendations is that “witness is clearly identified as central to the Church’s understanding of ordained vocation and not an optional extra for some.” Training processes should “assess and identify candidates lacking demonstrable experience and competence in witness and evangelism”, it says.

The report quotes Dr Michael Jinkins, the former president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in the United States, on baptism: “We are soaked to the skin in the death of Christ. . . We trail wet footprints of the drenching wherever we go.” The report concludes: “We need to prioritise how we help people drip their wet footprints into the people and places of their lives, ‘spreading the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’”

 

Youth

ON THE Friday, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Steven Conway, will move a motion welcoming a new report from the House of Bishops on ministry among children and young people (Growing Faith).

Among the research highlighted is a ComRes survey suggesting that 40 per cent of Christians say that they came to faith before the age of five, and three-quarters by the age of 18 (News, 15 September 2017).

Research indicated that the strongest influence was parents; yet a survey had found that, while 90 per cent of Anglican families thought it important to teach their children about the Christian faith, only 29 per cent thought that it was their responsibility.

Growing Faith is calling for a change of culture, so that the whole Church asks: “How we are seeking a renewal of minds and hearts within the diocese so that it becomes second nature to look at all daily activities and every decision through the lens of what it means for our children, young people and households?”

It expresses a concern that “the connection we have with 800,000 children in Church of England primary schools is often lost as they go to secondary school.”

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”Education has changed a lot over the last 30 years, and the dynamic experience young people have through their schools is not always matched by their experience in church,” it notes. “Young people tell us that they are not often involved in decision-making or given leadership responsibility in the church.”

On the Saturday, the CEO of the Church Army, Mark Russell, will move a motion affirming the importance of evangelism “to and with younger people”. While speaking of the “brilliant” work under way in many churches, his report says: “many of our clergy and lay ministers are not trained in children’s and youth work; if evangelism with younger people is optional in training, it ought not to surprise us that many see it as optional in ministry.”

The motion encourages dioceses to make more youth-work appointments, but, the report says, “these new posts should be paid a decent wage, have job security, training opportunities and proper terms and conditions.”

“There are some inspirational examples of youth evangelism across the Church of England, but Synod needs to know that the situation remains very bleak,” the report says.

More than one third (36.2 per cent) of churches have no under-16s present on a Sunday, and two-thirds (65.3 per cent) have fewer than five. Only seven per cent have more than 25.

“Whilst we recognise that we shouldn’t be driven by a sense of fear or anxiety, we need to be very clear. The future health of the Church of England depends on a renewed sense of urgency to engage with children and young people,” Mr Russell’s report says.

On Monday, a youth and children’s ministry consultant, Ali Campbell, welcomed the paper and warned that children were leaving C of E primary schools unprepared for life at secondary school: “Here, we are recognising that God is part of our day . . . how do we prepare them, without freaking them out, that they are going to an environment where that isn’t the case?”

On the Saturday, the CEO of the Church Army, Mark Russell, will move a motion affirming the importance of evangelism “to and with younger people”.

“There are some inspirational examples of youth evangelism across the Church of England, but Synod needs to know that the situation remains very bleak,” the report says.

More than one third (36.2 per cent) of churches have no under-16s present on a Sunday, and two-thirds (65.3 per cent) have fewer than five. Only seven per cent have more than 25.

Mr Campell welcomed the accompanying report, but raised concern about its mention of a “youth worker vanguard” to be “selected from some of the biggest, fastest growing and most innovative youth ministries”. Good work was under way “in churches that nobody knows about, not noticed for their bigness, but seen as a place you can belong; not known for being the fastest, but a reputation for being faithful; not celebrated for their innovation, but rooted in their community in such a way that they meet the needs of those they encounter in the most natural of ways.”

The national adviser on minority-ethnic Anglican concerns, Dr Elizabeth Henry, agreed that lessons could be learned from black and minority-ethnic families: research has suggested that teenagers from these families are more likely to go to church, pray, and read the Bible regularly.

“The Church of England as an old established institution may be a bit slower in learning from others and engaging with those outside of the stereotypical Middle England family,” she said. “There is much to be learned there and much to engage with; those efforts we are making great strides in.”

 

Estates

ON THE Friday evening, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, will present a motion on estates evangelism which asks the Synod to commend a vision of a Christian community “on every significant social-housing estate in the country”, and urges the Church’s leadership to “enable the voices of people from estates and other marginalised communities to be heard and heeded”.

It is estimated that one fifth of Anglican parishes are estate parishes, and nearly half the population of England are resident in such a parish.

The briefing panel on Friday included the Revd Helen Shannon, an assistant curate of St Barnabas’s, Woodside Park, who leads the Church at Five, which meets at a Community Centre on the Strawberry Vale estate. She started her life as Christian as a single mother on an estate, when “it was never in my wildest dreams that I could become a vicar. People like me, in situations like mine — you didn’t see them as vicars.”

Things were changing, she said: there was a “whole new grass roots of leaders coming up through estate churches”. Estates were “vibrant multicultural communities”.

There was a need for “authentic estate churches which really deal with the struggles that people are having in every day life”, including austerity, she said. “You can have seemingly vibrant churches in areas that have got really quite a large estate, and they don’t even touch the estate, and they won’t have people from the estate on them. That’s quite an issue for us in London.”

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“Many commentators hold estates residents responsible for the vote to leave the European Union,” Bishop North’s report says, “and this can all too easily play into a narrative that disparages working-class political concerns.”

Asked whether Bishops’ anti-Brexit comments had damaged relationships on estates, Ms Shannon observed: “I don’t think that people on the ground are really connected — to be honest — with what the Bishops have said. . . I think the Church has a huge job to do in listening to people and why they voted in the way that they did, and understanding their concerns: that whole disconnect that we have in society between the rich and the poor, and how polarised we are becoming, and how people are demonised on either ends of the margins.”

People in parishes weren’t asking about Brexit, the Bishop of St Albans reported, but rough-sleeping, the housing crisis, and debt.

 

Outward-facing

MR NYE said that the message to take away from the briefing was “that the Church is aiming to reach the hard-to-reach, the left-behind, the marginalised, the over-looked, those outside metropolitan centres, the people who are now often called, following David Goodhart, the “Somewheres” in our society. . . I think it’s fair to say that not many institutions in our society are currently prioritising and increasing investment in such places.”

On the Thursday afternoon, Andrew Gray (Norwich) will move a private member’s motion that calls on the Archbishops’ Council to enable the formation of a C of E-led Homelessness Taskforce, to “scale up and co-ordinate the Church’s own efforts in tandem with those of major homeless agencies” (News, 14 December).

The report welcomes government measures, including the Homelessness Reduction Bill (News, 3 March 2017), but states that the Church “must be prepared to provide additional support for those who will inevitably fall by the wayside”.

“As one of the biggest landholders in England, we should examine whether we are in a position to provide dynamic assistance,” it says.

On the Friday morning, Synod will pick up a debate begun in July, calling for churches to take action on climate change (News, 13 July 2018).

On the Saturday, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, will present a report on mission among Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities, Centuries of Marginalisation. A motion will call on the Church’s leaders to “speak out publicly against racism and hate crime” directed against these communities, and “urge the media to stop denigrating and victimising” them. It also asks dioceses to appoint a chaplain for these communities, and suggests that the Church lobby for land to be made available for Traveller sites.

“Churches too have been part of this institutional racism, in their failure to welcome Gypsies and Travellers into the full life of their communities,” a report notes. “There is much anecdotal evidence of people being refused baptism, weddings and funerals and such things as churches cutting off the outside tap for the graveyard rather than have Travellers use their water supply.”

The Churches Network for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma was established more than 20 years ago (Features, 17 March 2017).

On the Saturday, there will also be a motion moved by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, calling on the Government to reduce gambling advertising, and asking the Church to support those with gambling problems, and initiatives that educate children about the risks. In November, it was reported that there were 55,000 children who were problem gamblers (News, 18 January).

The Synod will conclude with a debate on the State of the Nation. A motion to be moved by the two Archbishops states that “social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years,” and that the Synod is “concerned at the divisions within the major political parties which are stifling the emergence of a hopeful and viable vision for the common good in our communities”.

It calls on every parish to pray for MPs and civil servants, “reaffirm the Christian commitment to putting the voices of the poor and marginalised at the heart of the nation’s concerns”.

 

Sexuality

AS IN July 2018, there will be presentations about the work on sexuality commissioned by the House of Bishops in 2017 (News, 30 June 2017). The Living in Love and Faith (LFF) thematic working groups have now produced more than 70 papers “on a wide range of subjects relating to human identity, sexuality, gender, marriage, friendship, celibacy, family”, a report states.

The co-ordinating group for LLF has now agreed “learning outcomes” for those who engage with the resources. These include hearing “the experiences of people who would otherwise have been invisible to them” and being “equipped to engage in the public square about what it means to be human and sexual”. A draft of the resources is scheduled for completion by the end of this year, and a final version by June 2020.

At the Synod briefing, Dr Eeva John said that the work involved “recognising that God does new things in his Church and being open to that kind of change rather than just hanging on to our convictions and hanging on to the fear that might undermine those convictions’ being dislodged”.

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Also published on Friday was a set of “pastoral principles” produced by the Pastoral Advisory Group and commended by the House of Bishops for use in dioceses and parishes of the Church of England.

The Group’s report notes that adopting these principles is “likely to require a change of culture in terms of the quality of our relationships”, and identifies “six pervading evils that are a bar to good pastoral practice in the Church . . . prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy, prejudice and misuse of power.”

Principle 4 states: “There is fear in the clergy of how they may be held to account as they attempt to care. There is fear that a bishop’s known views will colour her or his engagement with their people. There is fear that if one’s personal circumstances are known then one will be deprived of home or office. There is fear about ‘breaking ranks’ and speaking out. These kinds of fear must be addressed because it can corrupt our life together and imprison individuals.”

 

Legislation

ON THE Thursday morning, the Synod will return to legislation already under way. This will include final approval of the Draft Church Representation and Ministers Measure (News, 13 July 2018), and revision of a new framework for religious communities (News, 13 July 2018). Among the correspondence sent to the committee for the latter was a concern by Brother Bernard OC, prior of a contemplative order, that the canon envisaged religious life as being based on “activism and utility”. Prayer and contemplation was “an end in itself”,he wrote.

The Synod will also consider a change to a Measure so that burial fees are no longer payable for those aged 16 or 17, and so that fees may be prescribed for funerals held in funeral directors’ premises.

 

New appointments

THREE new appointments will be submitted to the Synod for approval.

Two new members of the Archbishops’ Council have been appointed: the Revd Charlotte Cooke, Assistant Curate of Walton and Trimley, in Suffolk, and a former member of the Church of England Youth Council; and Joseph Diwakar, a lay pioneer missioner in London, programme manager at Capital Vision 2020 in the diocese. He is currently completing a Ph.D. submission on mission and social class.

Clive Mather, whose last executive appointment was that of President and CEO of Shell Canada Ltd, has been appointed to chair the Pensions Board. He chaired Tearfund from 2008 to 2018.

Forthcoming Events

5 June 2019
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