Matthew Engel of the Financial Times’ magazine has written an institutional profile of the Church of England. It won’t tell those of you who read this blog regularly much that you don’t know, but it is an excellent encapsulation of the issues that challenge the church, from the parochial (declining attendance and revenues) to the global (intolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians.)
An excerpt from the section on the recent General Synod:
This was not an especially controversial Synod. The Church’s two (literally) sexiest issues were both, very temporarily, off the agenda: women bishops and gay priests. The press officers seemed a bit surprised that I had nothing better to do with my own Saturday night.
But the issue under discussion was far more important than either controversy. Indeed, it was absolutely fundamental to the future of the Church. In 40 years, attendance at Church of England services has halved and, according to the latest figures, is still falling: down to 1.13 million a week, barely 2 per cent of the population. Among the young, the drop is said to be 80 per cent.
“We are faced with a stark and urgent choice: do we spend the next few years managing decline, or do we go for growth?” asked the background paper accompanying the motion. Indeed, we all face a similar dilemma individually. Do we surrender to the ageing process or try to rejuvenate ourselves? We all know the answer we want, but how – in heaven’s name – do we achieve that? The task for the Church seems every bit as hopeless.
There was not much to argue about. The motion called for a “national mission action plan” to try to reverse the fall in attendance, and was carried by 333 votes to nine. The only argument against was that a national plan was unnecessary and that the individual dioceses should get on with the job.