Malcolm Guite in his Poet’s Corner in the Church Times on 2nd February 2018 invites us to join CAMRE – the Campaign for Real Evangelism. His inspiration is the growth of microbreweries and the local brews challenging the nation brands. He writes:
Perhaps we should see each small parish as a kind of microbrewery, combining an ancient recipe with local ingredients for a lively, distinct, and refreshing gift to its own community.
As the world is discovering the importance of localism, the Church of England seems busy following an outdated business model and be determined to strive for ever more centralisation. The Church’s (alleged) great hope, Renewal and Reform, seems to be leading this mistaken big business model. Bishops and Dean are to be shaped by new MBAs, theological courses and colleges are becoming more standardise, national programmes such as Alpha, Emmaus, Pilgrim are promoted as the new essentials and posts grow at Church House to over-see this new brave world.
A similar process is seen at work in the new Cathedrals Review Group report. There is talk of a “cathedral sector” and a greater control over the way they are both governed and operated, additional reporting and creation of new “dashboards” to allow quick comparison – which presumes they have been made “alike” so like can be compared with like.
The fear in all of this is of the eccentric, the maverick, the individualist, the one who may go off message. The dread is the uncontrolled individual (or individual church) saying or doing some that may bring the Church “reputational damage”. Yes things go wrong (though we forget more often how they go right) but making change because of occasional mess-ups represents a failure to learn from the old adage that bad cases make bad laws. Too often governments rush to legislation when something goes wrong and unintentionally can make things worse. Centralisation, more control, more standardisation, will not protect the Church from mess-ups, but it may end up making the Church so bland nobody will care whether the Church messes-up or not.
The lesson from the Brexit referendum is that people do not like centralisation. The yearn is for decision-making to be as close to the people it affects as possible. Sadly the Church seems as slow to learn this lesson as many others in positions of power in our society. In many parishes Diocesan House can seem remote and out of touch and in turn Church House in London seems irrelevant.
Above all this creeping centralisation goes against the core Christian doctrine of Incarnation. Jesus is made flesh at a particular moment of history, in a particular location. His words and his actions reflect the local context he was in. Similarly in our own age each priest is called to incarnate the gospel in their own unique setting. Each priest needs to be released to be their own microbrewery taking the three essential Kingdom ingredients named by Malcolm Guite as “Golden Grain, Living water and Secretly Working Yeast”. Of course not all the brews will be the best fermentation and it may take several goes before something drinkable is achieved but as many a CAMRA member will tell you, these local brews usually knock the socks off the mass-produced, big brand alternatives.
It is time for the Archbishops’ Council, Church House, the House of Bishops, General Synod et al to let go and let be. Release the levers of power and let’s go local. Trust the priests on the ground, let the incarnational be the hall-mark of the Church – local, rooted, distinct – of its community, for its community. All will not always go well, poor brews will occasionally taint the palate, but that is part of what it means to be family, Church family. All this will make it much riskier to be a bishop, yet alone an archbishop, but as they themselves learn to become unpasteurised, the Church stands every chance of becoming more colourful, diverse, and quirky – in short much more like the humanity God created.
So let’s get microbrewing…