ON MONDAY, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, will present to the General Synod the latest report from the Vision and Strategy group, including the target of 10,000 new predominantly lay-led churches in the next ten years (News, 2 July). This is an initiative backed by the London-based Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication, and is led by the head of church-planting development at New Wine.
All this was reported in the week that ordinations were taking place all round the country. It seemed ironic that, just as ordinands were making the Declaration of Assent, the Church they were committing themselves to was looking to a model of the Church which is very different from that in which they were being ordained.
I suspect that few of our new ministers will have given much thought to the implications of the Declaration of Assent. If they read it before they made it, they would have discovered that the Church of England is not a network of informal churches based on Bible classes, upbeat worship, and regular supernatural intervention, but merely “part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.
They would have also discovered that they are required to promise that they will use only forms of worship authorised or allowed by canon. The declaration is short, subtle, and dry. By way of contrast, read New Wine’s Values and Principles of Christian Ministry and you will find an amazing rush of aspirations. Joy! Freedom! Supernatural gifts! Heartfelt worship! With such abundant blessing, a million new worshippers sounds almost modest.
But New Wine is not the Church of England. The contrast between what the C of E believes about itself and the aspirations of the Evangelical networks that many are linked into seems so extreme as to be unbridgeable. The reality is that, in spite of the Decade of Evangelism, church-planting, Fresh Expressions, and other initiatives, the decline in numbers of Church of England worshippers has continued.
I now wonder whether, in a desperate attempt to avoid facing this reality, we have entered a state of corporate psychosis: a leap into false consciousness. We are pouring our efforts into a last desperate bid to stay alive, like a delusional person gambling away their lifetime’s savings.
My GP used to say that depression is reality. I think she was right. The “mixed ecology” has not worked. These are hard times for the faith, fallow times for the C of E, with its cautious, grounded via media so needed, yet currently unwanted. It takes courage to face this. Friends, there is no obvious harvest round the corner right now. The Declaration of Assent is a call not to success, but to faithfulness. “Take no thought of the harvest. But only of proper sowing.”