*** DEBUG END ***

C of E is paralysed by its privilege in society

08 April 2022

Parish ministry will thrive once again only if the Church faces up to issues of class and wealth, argues David Ford

IN 1913, an unknown author, simply identified as “One of the Bees” (presumably a shy cleric concerned for his reputation), published a 200-page booklet, Is Christianity a Colossal Failure?

The booklet describes the awful lives endured by millions of Edwardian women, and the failure of the Church to change the nature of their existence. Here are portrayed box-makers and artificial flower-makers, boot-sewers and dressmakers, hat-makers, and photographic plate-makers, all working industriously to keep their households the right side of starvation.

They could as easily be today’s school cleaners and delivery drivers, baristas and checkout assistants, farmhands, or postal workers. The author’s words traverse 110 years as if it were a day.

The author is angry and frustrated, and spares no punches in targeting the Church hierarchy: “I say without hesitation that, if our national Christianity were a practical, vital reality, instead of the mean, hollow, theoretical thing that it certainly is, our commercial, political, social and religious life would be permeated with the divine spirit of unselfishness and consideration for others.”

As the Church faces unique, even fundamental, challenges about the future of its ministry in this decade, class and economics again take centre stage. The parishes are told to give, give, give; for the Church is poor. In truth, we all know that the Church is abundantly wealthy, but that the centre is determined to hold on to it (Comment, 31 December, 7 January).

The Church of England is stuck in a middle-class philanthropic interpretation of faith — we have something to give — rather than a transformational understanding — we have something to receive. Our wealth is representative of this. The privilege and security of the Church’s leadership are dangerously problematic; for we are paralysed by our privilege.

TAKING a drink in a social club after a funeral recently, surrounded by ordinary, working-class men and women, I was painfully aware of the social distance between me and my parishioners: a bridge that I was keen to cross, but had neither the language nor culture to find my way.

It was far from the first time that I have experienced this. I recall, more than a decade ago, not having the language to talk to spliff-smoking parents who were pushing their children’s buggies through an estate in Leeds; or, more recently, not really knowing how to talk to retired miners around the old pit villages of Nottinghamshire.

To overcome these barriers of class and economics requires a much more radical agenda than any currently being considered. Just as the rich man cannot enter the Kingdom of God, a rich Church cannot represent it. To remain a national Church of universal relevance requires that we level down to the communities that Jesus cares about, so that he can lift them up.

We need to address the embarrassment of our wealth, and use it radically to reinvest in indigenous, parochial ministry, with training delivered contextually. Only by addressing both wealth and ministry together will parish ministry flourish once more.

Our entire training model is currently designed to support and reinforce the “set- apart”, exclusive, power/wealth model that the institution requires for its own justification and survival. We see this in the way in which clergy are taught to believe that they have something external to give rather than something indigenous to discover. We see it in our endless hierarchies and acronyms. It is a mindset that draws us away from, instead of towards, others.

If we continue on the current trajectory, the only church communities that face a chance of thriving in the future are the ones that already are. Those that struggle will have to bid for help. When such a characteristic of the market-economy model is used to support the weakest in the Church, one realises how far we have moved away from the gospel.

THIS radical agenda begins with the rediscovery of our calling as human beings made in the image of God. This is our first calling, and arguably the most important. Further, by being universal, shared with every other human being, it is also deeply humbling; for we have nothing to give someone else, other than the invitation to discover who they truly already are: a child of God.

If the Church can use its wealth to invest in indigenous ordained ministry, there is a chance that it can retain a universal national relevance. Through it, we might discover a new richness to ordained ministry, and it will enable the callings of many who feel drawn together by Jesus.

The Revd David Ford is Team Rector in the Bromsgrove Team Ministry, and Rector of Dodford, in Worcester diocese.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)