*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Angela Tilby: Conversion vocabulary can be alien  

14 July 2023

iStock

ON THE day of the announcement of his nomination as Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen appeared in an introductory video. He spoke from Westwood Road, Southampton, opposite the house where, as a student, in 1978, he “came to faith in Jesus Christ for myself” — the most important turning point of his life.

He then went on to speak of “coming home” to Hampshire, and of the challenges facing the diocese of Winchester, with its large urban populations represented in the video by Southampton. Cue ships on the Solent. (The rural parts of the diocese were briefly represented later by a flock of grazing sheep).

Media presentation aside, I was struck by the Bishop’s emphasis on his personal conversion in young adulthood. He made me wonder just how many of our current bishops would claim such a conversion, a “coming to faith . . . for myself” as the most significant moment in their lives. Quite a few, I would think.

It has been one of the great failures of the post-war generations not to nurture faith in their children. Many of my contemporaries were not prepared to countermand the children’s cry of “It’s boring” when summoned to go to church. They even made a virtue of leaving their children free to decide for themselves, without realising that this would also leave them prey to a culture increasingly hostile to religious belief.

Curiously, Bishop Mounstephen insisted that he had come from a loving and churchgoing family, leaving me to wonder how he connected his obviously Christian background with his coming to faith “for myself”. The phrase “for myself” is the key, I suspect. Today’s Christianity is restless and individualistic. Personal authenticity trumps shared beliefs and values; “lived experience” triumphs over religious habit.

One of the unspoken complications of church life at the moment is that the agenda is being written by those who, like the Bishop, have had an encounter with Jesus at university age, and who never quite realise how alien their vocabulary can seem to those more reticent souls who have never had or sought such an experience.

A Church led by self-confessed converts is at ease with an effervescent language about faith in a way that seems alien to those whose faith has been nurtured through habits of commitment, and shared, unconsciously memorised, liturgy — and also, I’d suggest, to those who are won over to Christ through patient pastoral care and friendship.

So, “driven” strategies for growth, implied in phrases such as “Mission Action Plan”, win out over faithful presence in each community. And Paul, the driven urban missionary, triumphs over Jesus the rural preacher, who had nothing much to offer apart from parables of wheat and tares, lost sheep and coins, and a Kingdom that is not built by our own zeal, but is mysteriously revealed in the midst of us.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

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 below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times Month

March 2024

For the whole of March, Church Times is offering completely FREE online access, so you can share stories without a paywall.

We are also asking our readers to spread the news of the Church Times among their friends, acquaintances, and fellow churchgoers (and non-churchgoers).

Find out more

 

Keeping faith in Journalism: a Church Times Webinar

11 March 2024 | 6pm GMT

An expert panel discusses trust between the media and the public

Online Tickets available

 

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

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

 

You are able to read this for FREE as part of Church Times Promotional Month, where for the whole of March, we are offering unlimited web access to the newspaper.

From next month to explore the Church Times website fully, you will need to sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers will return to only being able to read four articles for free each month.