October 1, 2009
On my visit to England I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the religion reporter for the Sunday Telegraph who you may recall had picked up my blog piece about possible futures for TEC including our being removed from real relationship with the communion. We might then form alliances that would, among other things, begin church planting in England. There are a host of problems with such a proposal while we are still part of the Anglican picture, not least of which is that England (contrasted with Europe) is a province of the church. That does not change the reality that there is a great deal of frustration in England as best I can tell about the top-down realities of the C of E and the challenge of effective mission in an environment in which as much as 90% of parish giving might be expected to go for wider and worthy diocesan ministries without any affective or emotional ‘ownership’ on the part of people in the pews.
A taxi driver, most of whose comments appeared to be from the ‘radical left’ of the political spectrum deplored the ‘nanny state’ which appeared to him to be increasingly invasive and attempted to usurp individual liberties. This cannot be unrelated to increasingly high levels of taxation, --nowhere near those of the 70s but much higher than in the US— which appeared to stifle creativity, imagination and risk. (Why bother?) There are many institutions, staffed by caring people, doing good work hat would be threatened by any proposal to let parishes decide how much to pay their clergy and which missions they will support in their regions. There would be less need for administrative structures as a result. This is not my problem to solve, but I heard the Archbishop at the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society wondering about what kind of heart for the gospel he was seeing in some ordinands who appeared to be constricted by scruple or preference as to what kind of parish they might be willing to serve. I also heard others admiring the church planting work of Holy Trinity, Brompton, home of the Alpha Course who seem to be making things work in a slightly uneasy relationship with their parent institution.
I read a short autobiography of Donald Reeves, one time rector of St. James’, Piccadilly whom Margaret Thatcher once called ‘a most dangerous man’. He revived St. James’ as place of relevant ministry and gospel life in the heart of London during his tenure as rector but found himself constantly at odds with and frustrated by the institutional drains which harmed rather than helped his ministry as he saw things. At All Saints’ we are talking about how to be alive and relevant rather than complacent and dying in the years to come. We are blessed to be part of a wider church that recognizes that healthy parishes are the foundation for the ministries we carry out together as dioceses and General Church. We know that all ministry is essentially and fundamentally local and that anything else has the potential to inhibit the proclamation of the gospel as much as serve it.