The Church Commissioners Annual Review 2015 has landed on the door mat. Well presented and highlighting lots of exciting undertakings; a Church fully alive. Lots of lovely pictures and yet not one of traditional church.
The Church of England website, full of information and helpful links – a busy site but with little to draw the eye or speak of mystery. The justpray videos are professionally produced but give only occasional glimpses of more traditional church. The emphasis in image in booth cases is on the new and the innovative is this what the dear old CofE has become; a place wrapped in renewal and reform?
The initial impact of pioneer ministry is exciting and in responding to the needs of 21st century society the Church will need to be bolder and braver. But surely the approach needs to be both/and not either/or.
The avoidance of traditional church imagery is a double mistake. Traditional is what many people will find if they visit their local church and, more crucially, traditional is in many places the Church that is growing and attracting people – as shown by the growth associated with our cathedrals.
But behind mere images is a deeper concern. As the established Church, are we a gift to the nation or a demand upon its population. The growing emphasis on membership changes the relationship with the community in which the church is set. To go along to church today is to be faced with an endless series of requests, to join this, sign up for that, to be part of a rota, to attend (yet another) special event. Church becomes yet another demand on busy lives and risks becoming just another club they decide whether or not to join.
For many people, their lives are already full of demand and difficulty. What they need is a space on a Sunday to sit, think, reflect, pray and prepare for another week; an oasis amidst all the other things they are juggling. The membership requirements of the modern church for many people are a turn off. It is better to sit in the garden or go for a walk and find some peace there rather than face the busy-ness and demands of Church.
Amidst all the latest big ideas for being and doing Church, there still has to be a place for those who wish to creep in and creep out, who do not want to stay for coffee nor be made to feel guilty because they are not joining in other churchy activities.
It is not the busy-ness of a church nor the size of its congregations that matter, but the depth with which it is engaged with its community and the extent that community regards the local church as truly there for them.
As the established Church our unique calling is to be a gift to the people, to be there for them, when required to walk alongside them, to meet people where they are and support them in their moment of need. Sometimes we will be forgotten, over-looked, ignored but the important thing is still being there, remaining faithful, refusing to go away. This is God’s response to us, His Church for this nation should be no different.