Page 6 - PT Spring 2017 spreads hires
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By Gethin Russell-Jones             services and youth work, are just a few examples. You could
                                                                                                                                  also add the vital role churches are playing in supporting
                                                                                                                                  refugees, asylum seekers, and campaigning against human
                                                                                                                                  trafficking.
                                                                                                                                     At one time, these activities would have been seen as
                                                                                                                                  peripheral to other more spiritual pursuits. But not any
                                                                                                                                  longer according to Spencer.
                                                                                                                                     What is especially noteworthy about many of these
                                                                                                                                  activities is that they are not seen as ‘bolt-ons’, extras that
                                                                                                                                  some churches do when they’re not spending their time
                                                                                                                                  singing and clapping on a Sunday morning. Rather, many
                                                                                                                                  of these activities are done as part of worship, ways of
                                                                                                                                  simultaneously loving God and loving thy neighbour – not
             A new reformation                                                                                                    its collective cap to religious and political grandees, the
                                                                                                                                  being forced to choose between the two of them.
                                                                                                                                     Spencer goes on to say that whereas society once doffed

                                                                                                                                  same no longer pertains in modern liberal society. These
                                                                                                                                  days, the right to be heard needs something else.
             The Church can no longer measure its success by numbers in                                                              Public legitimacy in the 21st century could well be
             the pews on Sunday mornings. But its engagement within                                                               grounded in a body’s active, tangible and measurable
                                                                                                                                  contribution to the wider public good. Not ‘believe me
             our communities is quite another tale.                                                                               because I am who I am’, but ‘believe me because I do what
                                                                                                                                  I do’. The licence to be heard over the coming years will
                                                                                                                                  be grounded in the ability to point to the public good that
                                                                                                                                  legitimises a voice and a viewpoint.
                                                                                                                                     In other words, if there is a numbers game then the
                                                                                                                                  rules have changed. It’s not about the number of bums on   ‘We have a young team and it wouldn’t surprise me if we
                                                                                                                                  seats on a Sunday morning but the souls consoled, fed and   attract young people. I want it to be something my friends
                                                                                                                                  helped last week. To quote a tweet I came across recently:  would come to. We have a chat, see how people are doing –
            ‘  t was the best of times, it was                    declined from 10.6 million in 1930 to 5.5 Million in 2010,         ‘It’s not about how many we’re seating but how many   as people in London don’t do that enough.’
                                                                                                                                                                                          ‘Then we read some spiritual writing from the Bible and
               the worst of times, it was the                     dropping to 5.4 million in 2013. It is predicted that church    we’re sending.’                                      discuss how it relates to our 21st century lives.’
                                                                  membership in England will fall as low as 2.53 million
            Iage of wisdom, it was the age of                     (4.3% of the population) by 2025. And lest we imagine that      Change is inevitable                                    And the Church of Scotland is going online to find
             foolishness, it was the epoch of belief,             England is less godly than the rest of the UK, the rate of      If Spencer, and others like him, are correct, then structural   new parishioners. Rev. Albert Bogle has become the
                                                                                                                                                                                       denomination’s first digital minister. Speaking of his new
                                                                                                                                  change is unavoidable. Buildings that are used for a few
                                                                  decline is even more rapid in Scotland and Wales.
             it was the epoch of incredulity, it was                At this early stage in the article, you might be forgiven     hours, once a week, will have to be mothballed. And where   role, Rev. Bogle said:
                                                                                                                                                                                          ‘This role is about getting online worshippers to attend
             the season of Light, it was the season               for expelling a sigh of despair or worse. But to paraphrase     do clergy fit in to all this? Speaking as a paid up member   church and also to support those who have no intention to
                                                                                                                                  of the clerical caste, I have a vested interest in all this, but
                                                                  Dickens, there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
             of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,              For buried in these statistics are several fascinating          the question needs addressing. If the church of the future   go on a Sunday.
                                                                                                                                                                                          ‘There is a growing Christian audience online who seek
             it was the winter of despair, we had                 narratives. Thus we find that Pentecostal and new churches      is tilting firmly towards mission, outreach and community   quality content to nurture their faith.
                                                                                                                                  engagement, then it will need a suitably trained leadership
                                                                  are witnessing strong growth. For example, in 1980,
             everything before us, we had nothing                 membership of these new churches (often church plants           able to navigate a new map. In the slightly adapted     ‘My role is about helping to provide an online
             before us, we were all going direct to               connected to new networks) totalled 75,000, whereas by          sentiments of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk:              community for those who have left the buildings and
                                                                                                                                                                                       committee structures far behind but not the Church.’
                                                                                                                                     It’s church Jim, but not as we know it.
                                                                  2015 they numbered 166,000. Less dramatic increases in
             Heaven, we were all going direct the                 numbers have also been experienced by Pentecostal and              And the future is already breaking in across the UK. In   Just three examples of the way church life is beginning
             other way.’                                          Orthodox churches.                                              the sedate Diocese of Winchester, St Winfrid’s Church in   to change in the UK. And these aren’t new, independent,
                                                                                                                                                                                       church plants. All three belong to two of the UK’s most
                                                                                                                                  Totton is transforming itself into a community hub, beyond
                                                                  Another angle                                                   a place of worship. It’s becoming a one-stop-shop for local   established denominations, namely the Church of England
             This is the famous and sublime opening sentence of   However, this issue can easily end up in the long grass         people, providing free debt advice, counselling, child care,   and Church of Scotland. And there are similar examples
             Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, a story about the   of statistics, ignored by most apart from denominational   friendship and a range of therapies. In particular, the new   across the nation, hundreds of them, of churches defining
             French Revolution as experienced in Paris and London. But   bosses and special interest groups. So let’s look at it from   hub will seek to create community for people who feel   themselves in looser and more socially connected ways.
             it could just as easily form the opening to any number of   another point of view: the perspective of influence.     isolated and alone.                                     If you build it, they will come is no longer a mantra
             discussions, including this one. If someone asked you today   Writing in The Guardian, Nick Spencer, director of        Meanwhile in Islington, London, an Anglican parish   you’ll hear among many Christians in the UK. Those
             for your opinion on the current state of the church in the   Theos (a religion think tank), sees two parallel trajectories   church is planting a new congregation in a Costa coffee   days, if they ever existed, are buried in the same vault as
             UK, you’d be hard pressed to find a better summary. Truth   at work in the churches of the UK. On the one hand, there   shop. The Nag’s Head Church Community has been set   final salary pensions, pipe organs and the Latin Mass.
             be told, you might think Dickens’ sentiments a little on the   is a trend of numerical decline which means that the church   up under the leadership of newly ordained Rev Sarah   The Church of the future will be smaller, leaner and
             optimistic side.                                     of the future will be smaller, in some cases much smaller.      McDonald. Speaking recently in the Islington Gazette,   less concerned about its own viewing figures and more
               And believe me, if you look at the statistics and the   But, there is another track seeing unparalleled influence.   Rev. McDonald said: ‘You don’t have to believe in   concerned about its reach.
             hysterical headlines they generate, this feels like the worst   Churches running CAP (Christians Against Poverty)    anything,’ she added, ‘and you certainly don’t have to   Future church will still sing and feed on the Bible, but it
             of times. For example, according to the most recent figures   centres, food banks, Street Pastors, lunch clubs for the   know the Bible. It’s the kind of church I wish I had when I   will seek to serve Jesus in the faces of the poor and isolated.
             published in UK Church Statistics, UK Church membership   elderly, parent and toddler groups, mental health support   was 20.’                                            It will do all of these things.




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