A leaked document shows it expects its already-dwindling flock to be 20 per cent lower after lockdown. Rather than fight this, it is planning to close churches, sack clergy – and accelerate the decline of Anglicanism
If we look for solace for our current predicament, we find it in the prospect of full vaccination or in clapping for Captain Tom, the Church of England where it has relevance is in the individual parish, but the plan seen and reported by the Spectator asks for parishes to hand control and finances into a collective management system.
This may sound like salvation for the COE’s finances, but it suggests that the link between a parish and its community will be swapped broken in favor of reporting between parishes and the central hub. This risks disenfranchising the PCCs , church officers and congregations who do the pastoral work of the Church, entirely pro-bono. The Spectator doesn’t mince words.
The plan to dismantle the parish network is quite simply the biggest act of church vandalism since the dissolution of the monasteries. It comes at precisely the moment when communities need the comfort and assistance of leaders on the ground. ‘Parishes are being kicked almost to death, then woken up and told to pay up,’ says one vicar. If clergy refuse to pass on their parish donations will church leaders listen?
Until I moved away from the Church of the Holy Spirit, Clapham where I was on the parochial church council, I have not found an Anglican church where I felt comfortable.
A couple of years back, my partner found herself in the Wesleyan Church and Leysian Mission in City Road, (Wesley’s Chapel). She suggested we went to a service. We did and we were blown away not just by the service but by the congregation, people seemed to be at Church because they wanted to, (not because they ought to).
And when we started to go regularly, we discovered how involved Wesley’s Chapel was in community projects such as the Whitechapel Mission and the local Boys Brigade. My friend Con Keating tells me that as a boy he was involved with this very church which was doing the same then.
It strikes me that unless our church continues to bring people together to communally celebrate our faith, we are nothing. Our web-based services are not well attended and the church’s outreach is massively diminished by the pandemic. People are getting used to spending their lives without making their way to City Road and the longer the pandemic goes on, the more habits created over decades, will slide into disuse.
This question of whether we will come back to church when we feel safe to do so, may well be getting a different answer if the rules forbid us till the end of the year. That’s the church’s problem.
But if we allow our rhythms of daily and weekly life to become focused on physical isolation and virtual participation, then this becomes our problem.
Whether we couch this in terms of personal well-being , community outreach or spiritual nourishment, our physical participation in the physical life of the church is something we are missing today and could – too easily – miss tomorrow.