I enjoyed this cartoon from the Naked Pastor:

The reason is that I’m currently experiencing a degree of – erm – dissatisfaction with my local gaff.  Change is, it seems, a difficult concept.

Is he right?  I think he is, and I think the implications for the Church of England cut across the usual arguments about service styles, organs vs. worship bands , choirs vs. worship leaders and all the usual guff that usually polarises us into two opposing camps.

It’s no secret that bums on pews are fewer than once they were.  The Church is certainly leaner than it was.  Has it just trimmed the fat of “nominal Churchgoing”?  Or is it in danger of anorexia?  To what degree have we just let people go when there are other demands on their Sunday mornings?  Could we have considered rescheduling our activities to fit in with modern lifestyles?

It’s a frequently noted but less frequently addressed issue that our children leave the moment they are old enough to be left at home on a Sunday morning.  Or find a football club.  Or take up dance classes.  Have we failed to engage them and develop their faith, and then failed to provide a form of service that makes church a desirable option amongst all these other activities on offer?  Have we hived them off to Sunday School when they’re young enough, but have nothing engaging and meaningful for them once cutting and sticking and colouring in Bible stories starts to pale?  Are we, as it says above, letting life out?

My analysis – for what it’s worth – is this: the established, traditional Church in this country is too wedded to expressions of faith that served well for hundreds of years – but not well for the last fifty or so.  It is my belief that society has changed more in the last fifty years than it did in the previous five hundred. People’s horizons, opportunities, expectations and choices are massively expanded compared with those of but two generations ago.  It is no accident, in my view, that it was the 1960s and 70s which saw modern language liturgy, new hymns and ultimately movements in thought which make the Church of England today quite different to that of 1962.    But I would ask whether our tinkering with services – translating the “thees” and “thous” but leaving the basic structure and pattern of Church life unchanged – has been much more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? Some have found the changes quite radical.   Others might ask whether they have been radical enough.  Are we merely altering the externals a bit, but, in the words of David Hayward, refusing admission to new kinds of people, ideas and ways.

I would aver, however, that if the Church is to survive far into this new century, and, dare I say it, grow, it needs to change far, far more.

This is not about replacing organs with guitars and throwing out hymns for modern worship songs – that would merely replace one set of alien and esoteric practices with another.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s about more than asking whether 11am is better than 9.15am.  it’s about asking how the Church of the future needs to look if it is to still be there.  Is communal singing really something people are comfortable doing?  Are Sunday mornings the best time to meet together?  Is the Eucharist really the service that must happen every week, rain or shine?  What will actually enable modern, 21st century people to encounter God?  Because all too often, what the Church is offering fails to do this.  And that is why, if it’s not killing itself, it’s seriously neglecting its health.

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