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Book review: How to Build the Church of the Future: Twenty years of Inclusive Church, edited by Ruth Wilde

01 December 2023

Peter Sedgwick on the broadening of the aims of Inclusive Church

THIS small volume celebrates 20 years since the Inclusive Church network was founded. Several of the essays are taken from the annual lecture of the network. The description on the SCM Press website says boldly: “While things have arguably moved on in the last decade, the church continues to discriminate against people on the grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity or sexuality.”

This is, then, a campaigning organisation, which wishes to change the Church, originally the Church of England, but now seen more broadly. Many of the essays are by well-known names, and include a powerful piece by Loretta Minghella, formerly CEO of Christian Aid, on poverty and gender globally; Anthony Reddie, who mounts a strong critique of the manner in which “whiteness” still infects Christianity in the West; Ruth Hunt, who again was CEO of Stonewall, and is a Roman Catholic, on the tension between her faith and her sexuality; and the composer June Boyce-Tillman, on carnival and liturgy.

Other pieces focus much more on local examples, such as Fiona MacMillan’s work at St Martin-in-the-Fields on disability, and Nick Bundock, Team Rector in Didsbury, Manchester, who had to respond to the suicide of a young person, and then founded Didsbury Pride. There are also pieces by Ruth Wilde, Jack Woodruff, and Michael Jagessar.

One of the tensions in the book is theological. Some writers, such as Reddie, construe theology within a discourse of authority and insist that this must be deconstructed.

Wilde is committed to building the Kingdom, which she equates with being the Church, and sees the miracles of Jesus as healing “the wounds of rejection”. She writes in the tradition of liberal theology, as does Boyce-Tillman, who insists that the Kingdom is within everyone, and rejects the call to be perfect (Matthew 5.48).

The recent Synthesis Report of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, in contrast, sees the option for the marginalised as not a cultural, but a theological option, basing itself on Philippians 2, the self-emptying of Jesus. It is striking that both the Synod report and Inclusive Church seek to overcome barriers of discrimination, but in very different theological ways. However one responds theologically to these essays, there is much to be grateful for in the work of Inclusive Church over the past 20 years.

Canon Peter Sedgwick formerly chaired the Church in Wales Doctrine Commission, and was Principal of St Michael’s College, Llandaff.

How to Build the Church of the Future: Twenty years of Inclusive Church
Ruth Wilde, editor
SCM Press £25
Church Times Bookshop £20

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