Tag Archives: Anglican Church

Annual Church Attendance Story

The annual survey of Church attendance figures has just been published, and as usual it is an opportunity for the media to publish a load of stories highlighting the figures. The Times in particular really went for it including this article – Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour – which in particular plays the Muslims will outnumber Christians card, and is being disputed by the organisation who conducted the research. As the Church of England response to the survey points out it does this using a figure taken from census data and compares it with the actual Church attendance – if a similar ploy was used to calculate numbers of Christians from census data the figures would show something like twenty million active Christians in the UK.

Ruth Gledhill also backs up the main piece with a comment article which includes a number of juicy quotes:

As the Religious Trends Survey shows, an ageing generation of churchgoers is about to die out and there could be, within a generation, a God-shaped hole at the heart of our society.

and

The decline forecast for the Church of England is so severe that its position as the established church of the nation with the Queen as Supreme Governor can surely no longer be tenable.

however this point does get to the heart of the problem:

Yet, as the report notes, the decline in attendance coincides with a surge of interest in religion, reflected in the growing numbers of children opting for religious studies at GCSE and A level. There are also increasing numbers of students at theological and Bible colleges.

Somehow, the churches, despite innumerable studies, reports, synod and assembly debates, are failing to get these people into church.

The thing is that whilst as a bit of rabble rousing all the press coverage is good, it doesn’t really reflect the true picture – needless to say that is a lot more complicated. David Keen, a vicar in Yeovil, looks in more detail and points out that a significant number of diocese have already reversed the decline. Bishop Alan gets straight to the point too, highlighting a cutting from the Times in 1971 that said the same thing, and on the basis of which the church will cease to exist in a couple of years. (Amusingly to show the ‘power’ of statistics he goes on to prove that the Diocese of Oxford Reporter will have a larger circulation than The Daily Telegraph by 2050…)

The main Times article again puts forward that only the evangelical churches are growing – which from my point of view is wrong. Seriously, Ruth Gledhill should come along to Finchampstead sometime as St James is anything but evangelical. We’re a mainstream middle of the road Anglican church, and yet for the past two years our electoral roll figures have gone up by more than 10% a year, and as I mentioned back at Easter we were struggling to find seats for everybody then. Whilst it is certainly correct to say that our growth area is in the young families, as our Rural Dean pointed out at his recent inspection we manage to produce a respectable fifty to sixty or so people at our prayer book services too.

As far as I am concerned the parts of the Church are growing aren’t anything to do with their Churchmanship – churches of all denominations and types are growing – it’s about getting the basics right, and looking at what people want. In the case of the prayer book services what people are looking for is familiarity and authenticity, so those are done absolutely straight with traditional hymns, and the King James bible. On the other hand the young families, who often come in via our play-group, are looking for accessibility, which is what they get through our 9:30am Family Services. The main 11am services are a bit more of a blend of the two, so we’re relatively traditional, with organ, choir and sermon, but with more accessible elements. The biggest thing though is to be a welcoming community. It is always frustrating to hear of other churches that are spending more time turning themselves into a private club and excluding people – as far as I am concerned whilst things have changed at St James to bring about our rise in numbers, they haven’t been particularly radical, and to be honest if they were radical we’d only end up marginalising a different group. The whole basis of what we do is to be inclusive of the broad range of people in the village rather than exclusively focusing on one group. Whenever the “how do you do it?â€? question comes up though, most people at St James’ really can’t explain, as from our point of view we aren’t doing anything particularly special or out of the ordinary, and equally the area around the church from which our attendance is drawn isn’t that much different from much of the surrounding area either.

An Island Parish Finally Talks to the Methodists

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If I were part of the Methodist Church on the Isles of Scilly, I’m sure I’d be decidedly annoyed with Nigel Farrell and the team behind An Island Parish. Up to now, the fact that there is a thriving Methodist Church on the islands, has been largely ignored by the programme. As I commented at the end of the first series Rev David Easton appeared in the background but isn’t acknowledged, and in the first episode of the second series appears only once making a joke in a Church service. After that, I nearly fell off my chair this week when he appeared in the programme more than Rev Guy – indeed you realised that some of the footage of Rev Guy has been filmed in the Methodist Chapel, and also how close the two church buildings are – if you look at the picture you can see the Anglican Church in the background, barely two minutes walk up the street!

I have to say though, that it has taken rather a tragedy to get some more balanced coverage. Earlier in the series the mechanic on the local lifeboat tragically died of a heart attack, deeply affecting the community. When it happened, Nigel Farrell interviewed Rev Guy, but then the commentary highlighted that it wasn’t Rev Guy that did the funeral. The family involved asked Rev David to do the service instead. To be rather brutal about it, the programme had to talk to the Methodists in order to actually get a continuation to that story. So as a result, this week we had a lot of discussion with Rev David, as the daughter of the family was brought to baptism, again in the Methodist Church.

He didn’t just appear without introduction, you had some shots in his Manse, and some establishing footage of him preparing for his role in the island panto. The commentary even mentioned the Anglican/Methodist Covenant that was signed nationally in 2003, and highlighted that when Rev Guy is absent, his congregation holds a joint service with the Methodists down the street. If all of this has been happening, it seems increasingly odd that he hasn’t featured more sooner.

Perhaps the An Island Parish team have wanted to simplify things – but if they have, I do think that they have simplified things rather too much by effectively sidelining the Methodist Church. Maybe the local superintendent and the local circuit didn’t provide support in the same way as the Diocese of Truro has done (only the Diocese is on this weeks credits). However, it is pretty apparent that Rev Guy and Rev David work quite closely together – another part of the programme shows them jointly leading a Remembrance Service – surely it would be a more accurate representation of life in the parish to show the two denominations working together rather than what has been done up to now. We’ll have to see whether this continues in the weeks to come.

Crunch Point

In all the recent goings on in the Anglican Communion, the obvious crunch point has always been the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Every ten years all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion from all over the world get together, ironically not in Lambeth but at the University of Kent in Canterbury. However who attends is entirely down to who the Archbishop of Canterbury, so there has been much speculation and discussion as to who will be invited, particularly with reference to the Episcopal Church.

Yesterday, the months of speculation were ended by the announcement that the invitations had been issued. Reading the letter of invitation, those worried that the whole of the Episcopal Church will have been sidelined had their minds put at rest. Rowan Williams said the following:

An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.

and also this:

I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for God’s glory and Christ’s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.

However, then comes the following:

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.

Although they are not mentioned by name, neither the Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, nor Martyn Minns, recently consecrated by Peter Akinola against the wishes of Rowan Williams have been invited.

The reasons for the exclusions though are rather different. Minns isn’t invited, fundamentally because Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), although being regarded as part of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is not recognised as part of the wider Anglican Communion.

The exclusion of Gene Robinson is for no other reason than the fact his is gay and is being honest about it. All of the sixty or so Bishops who supported him and were involved in his consecration are invited, it is only Robinson who is being denied an invite. However, the communiqué issued by the February 2005 Primates meeting said the following:

The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.

Not surprisingly this has provoked a good deal of outrage from across the communion, there is a good roundup on Episcopal Cafe. Interestingly both sides of the debate are not happy with the decision, for differing reasons, as detailed by Andrew Plus:

So far the blogs seem to go like this. The blogs on the right are disappointed because invitation to Lambeth was seen as test of orthodoxy. They assumed that only orthodox Anglicans would be invited, and Archbishop Akinola has said that if +Gene or the Episocpal Church was included he and the Global South would gather in Alexandria or someplace else and have their Lambeth conference.

The bloggers on the left are disappointed because of the active and deliberate exclusion of Bishop Robinson, once again placing the burden of division on the back of one man–the open, affirming and partnered gay man. This once again smacks of condescension and avoidance–talking about people instead of to people–and so this solution seems to be a capitulation to conservative pressure. The words in his letter about the limits of inclusivity seem to reinforce this.

Andrew’s position is much the same as mine – everybody should have been invited, and then it should have been left to the individual Bishops as to whether they would attend. Mark Harris on PRELUDIUM says much the same. By excluding Minns and Robinson from the invite list it seems to please no-one, indeed Peter Akinola is already threatening to have the entire Anglican Church in Nigeria boycott the meeting over Minns not being invited. Minns himself doesn’t seem quite so bothered. Gene Robinson’s statement describes him being excluded as an affront to the whole Episcopal Church. Certainly it will be interesting to see how many of the Episcopal Church choose not to attend in protest.

However, there is a possibility that Robinson will still attend the conference. A number of reports including USA Today and Ruth Gledhill suggest that Robinson may well be invited as a guest – perhaps the irony of that is that as a guest he may well have more visibility than if he was within the conference.

Anyway, if all of this is totally depressing, thanks to Dave Walker for his spin on why the two Bishops weren’t invited…

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More Primate Meeting Comment

The Guardian and the BBC are playing catch-up somewhat with comment pieces today. The Guardian article pointing out that the result is not even really a compromise, and the BBC article fully expecting the Episcopal Church to go, together with Canada, Mexico, Brazil, most of Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps the only surprising part of the article is the idea that the Church of England would side with conservatives…

Anglican Primates Unanimously Agree that they Disagree

This picture is probably as near as you’re going to get to seeing a group shot of the Anglican Primates during the Primates meeting that occurred over the last week, a picture from the Eucharist held in the Cathedral in Zanzibar – and even then Archbishop Akinola wasn’t there after saying that he had a bad back.

Yesterday, the closing hours of the meeting proved to be the most dramatic in some ways, and perhaps ultimately the only part that went according to the script. But before that, things looked like they’d be rather different. Firstly came the quite amazing news that Katherine Jefferts Schori, who prior to the conference it was considered could be excluded, had been elected onto the Standing Committee. That was followed by the announcement of the Anglican Covenant, which seemed to go down better with the liberal wing of the Church. However, alongside this, the press conference for the final communiqué kept being pushed back. Dave Walker came up with his own reason as to why, but it seems that there was a good deal of last minute horse trading going on in order to try and get a communiqué to which everybody could unanimously agree – whilst the traditional group photograph didn’t take place, at least the primates were going to produce a unanimous statement!

Finally, they managed to do it. However it makes interesting reading. What is particularly telling is especially in the parts covering the controversy, the number of times the words “some of our numberâ€? or similar phrases are used – so in order to get everybody to sign, the communiqué in places ends up being a thinly disguised report on the disagreements. As reported by Stephen Bates, although the communiqué records the concerns both of the conservatives about same-sex blessings, and putting a moratorium on further appointments of gays to the episcopate, and also the liberal concerns over the conservative primates ignoring the Windsor report requirements that they not operate in other Anglican provinces, the big blow for the Episcopal Church is that it is given until 30th September to clarify it’s position, but the conservative Bishops can carry on as before – apparently the only way that Archbishop Akinola would sign. Having said that, it doesn’t actually propose a split within the Episcopal Church – effectively what is set up is similar to the Church within a Church that operates in the Church of England over women priests. Whilst it isn’t the predicted split, nor the predicted schism in the Anglican Communion – it does seem to only be postponing the inevitable – certainly if the anger expressed in some of the blog responses from liberal bloggers are anything to go by.

However, there are some interesting points about what was and wasn’t said in the communiqué that an Inclusive Church press release highlighted this afternoon. Chief among this was the perception that the Episcopal Church was being used as a scapegoat – the communiqué places requirements on them, but fails to mention the Canadian Anglican Church at all, nor indeed does it make any requirements on the Church of England, both of which have been the target of conservative anger in the recent past. Officially, the Church of England has no same sex blessings, and although they allow gay and lesbian clergy to enter into civil partnerships they are clear over celibacy – it is perfectly possible to find Church of England clergy who will provide a blessing, and it’s not exactly a secret. The situation in Canada is even more clear, indeed it was the well documented actions of the New Wesminster diocese – that officially approved a same sex blessing that in part initiated the current crisis. However, aside from one mention, the communiqué only targets the Episcopal Church.

So quite what happens now will probably not be clear until the dust has settled. I fully expect that even if the Bishops of Episcopal Church officially agree not to approve same sex blessing rites that the result will be a situation like we have in the Church of England. However I’m not totally sure that they will agree. If they don’t agree, I expect that come September, we might finally reach the point of schism, but if they do officially agree, then I’m sure we can expect another big row – and then we can look forward to the invitations for the Lambeth Conference in 2008 being issued, and the reaction from the different groups based on who gets invited. Unfortunately for the religious press pack who will follow the whole thing, this one will be in Kent, rather than a five-star tropical hotel…

So on we go – more arguments, more meetings, and more column inches. The end for stories about the Anglican Church? Sadly, not a chance.

But on the ground, life goes on. Whilst the press was covering the Anglican top brass, on the ground Church life went on as usual – for example Mum was leading a lay training session for her Diocese on the subject of God, Suffering and Death for which she has posted two sermons that she wrote in 2001 on which the session was based. As I mentioned earlier, members of the St James Choir were off helping out another local choir – and we’ll be back on duty again for Ash Wednesday tomorrow, and for a Musical Supper on Saturday night. Also our new bit of outreach, God@Work(@The Pub) held it’s third session at the Queens Oak, and over in the USA, Father Matthew takes a group of young people to the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York. I’m quite sure that all over the world people will still be at Church on Sunday, and despite talk of schism and split, for most people in the pews, life goes on…

A full church originally uploaded by scottgunn.

Anglican Covenant

If you keep an eye on the Church News, you probably will have seen that a select group of representatives of various Evangelical groups in the Church put forward a proposed covenant to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Not surprisingly the more liberal end of the Church didn’t much like it, but what is interesting is the reaction of some of the more Evangelical end. By far the most comprehensive, and in many ways damning analysis comes from the evangelical Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who as a friend of a number of people involved in the drafting of the document, is very apologetic before he starts.

Which Way Will It Go?

Before the fall out from the convention has even settled, it looks like the election of a new Bishop of Newark, a post previously held by John Shelby Spong, is going to cause more arguments, as one of the four candidates is gay. The diocese have said that the committee deliberately avoided discriminating against candidates on the grounds of sexual orientation. Essentially, they have handed the decision to the members of the congregations in the Newark diocese, and as with the recent election in California it will be their choice of Bishop that will ultimately trigger, or avoid more arguments.

In the UK, Ruth Gledhill’s article in the Times yesterday that assumed that any Anglican covenant would be defined in terms of the conservative position has produced a swift response from Colin Slee, pointing out firstly that no covenant has been defined, and also floating the question as to whether many congregations in the wider Church of England, such as his own in Southwark, would sign up to it either. This offers the possibility that the Church of England as a whole may find itself theologically closer to the liberal provinces that include Scotland and New Zealand as well as the US and Canadian churches than the conservative provinces in Africa and Asia, and drafting a much more liberal covenant than the conservative churches could stomach. This of course raises the possibility that ultimately it may be these conservative provinces that will find themselves excluded, rather than the liberal wing.