What will be the shape of the Church to come?

The Church of England is constantly facing criticism from both inside and outside. All kinds of changes are proposed. With this, inevitably, goes a sense of uncertainty, especially as many differing voices seem to be clamouring for attention. Some say traditional structures and formats must give way to new directions, others feel there is stability in the tried and tested ways.

I’ve given much thought to this over the past few months, and years, not least in Covid days. Church attendance has greatly reduced in the majority of churches in the UK over the past decades. As in the past methods are suggested to reverse this, and with this goes an assumption that numbers, and financial income, must increase. I would like to challenge this assumption.

I believe the Church of England is being called to be a smaller, leaner and ‘fitter’ church. As I have remarked elsewhere a tangerine is not a failed orange, it is smaller and sweeter. Similarly a smaller church will not be a failed church. It will be a church of ‘the little flock’ – a church which is outward looking – called to be salt to the earth, a light for the world. This is not about ‘managing decline’ – a somewhat dispiriting term. Rather it is about decluttering and opening the doors.

The future church, I believe, will be an open and radically inclusive church. This means that although the Church will be smaller it will not retreat into a ghetto or become a sect or a club for like minded people. An open church will be open to all, accepting of others, and aware that others may hold differing views about faith and life. Indeed some may be part of it as enquirers, uncertain but seeking. The ‘open church’ will make active efforts to be broad and welcoming, Anglicanism at its best, and will itself be a sign of unity in diversity.

I believe the future church will be rooted at a local level. Management above the local level has to be greatly reduced, especially in the ‘top heavy’ Church of England. Living church will be formed by living Christian communities, be they formed locally as parishes or in other ways. These communities will have a duty to be in unity with the ‘episcope’ in whatever form that takes, but they will be humble in nature, and shun authoritarian and expensive management structures. Bishops and church leaders hopefully will lead as they, to quote Pope Francis, “embrace poverty and avoid becoming bureaucrats shut away in large offices.”

The future church, I believe, will be guided by committed laity and clergy. Our own Chi Rho group at St Chrysostom’s is, for me, a local example of such a potentially guiding group. Members, lay and clergy, meet regularly, committed by a simple rule of life to prayer, mutual support, and to support our local church and community. In the diverse group all are equal ordained or not, regardless of gender, length of church membership or whatever.

Service to the world will be a key feature of the future church. This will mean recognising Christ in the hungry, the imprisoned, the thirsty, the needy and serving him there. It will also mean challenging the secular world, as well as recognising God at work beyond the church, in society and in all world faiths.

At the heart of the future church will be prayer and reflection, a deep spirituality. The Eucharist, the Mass, will be the focus of unity and indeed will create and renew unity. One of the great treasures of the christian church throughout history is the spirituality and liturgy of the church. The future church will value, take forward and develop spirituality. Similarly all the sacraments, where christians have found God to be particularly active among us, will be celebrated worthily and in a way which both nurtures and enhances vision.

There will be change. It is clear there has to be. I believe we can see wonderful signs of faith and hope for the future smaller, fitter church in several Christian churches of today – including, thankfully, our own at St Chrysostom’s!

Fr Ian

About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2364267899/
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1 Response to What will be the shape of the Church to come?

  1. Fr Ian, I agree with you. I would add this: lots of priests, deacons, subdeacons and other ministers, to be recruited from the parishes, trained on the spot, and these should serve voluntarily. Likewise, small dioceses, with bishops that keep on being parish priests.

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