Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 10/06/21

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.  Sometimes people will say to me somewhat triumphantly, “I’m a Christian, not an Anglican- or a Baptist or a Methodist.” As if somehow that trumps everything. Unfortunately, according to the New Testament at least, you can’t be a Christian and not be part of a church.  We are all baptised into something, not just personal faith, but a spiritual family. Whether we like it or not those families come in different flavours, so you have to make your choice.  I became an Anglican out of choice and I sometimes feel, after 30 odd years, that I’m no closer to really understanding how the whole set up works. Its made much more complicated by the fact that we’re a church that doesn’t just look to its own affairs, but has a strong sense of being the Church for England.  Most of our energy tends to be devoted to our local parish or benefice but the Church exists at at least three levels. At a national level we interact with the organs of government and are still expected to have a view on contemporary issues.  So, when we talk nationally talk about racism or engage with issues of sexuality or the environment this is not a woke distraction from our core business.  We tend to be anxious about the lack of young people in our churches, but these are all issues they feel passionately about.  To fail to give a gospel perspective on these things would be a dereliction of duty, and give the impression we are even more irrelevant to daily life than most people seem to think we are.

Then we exist at the regional level through our grouping into dioceses. We are the smallest in the country by population, so we seek to run with as tight an infrastructure as we possibly can. Those of us whose responsibility is leading and managing the organisation are understandably pre-occupied sometimes about how we continue to fund everything.  We are trying to find the magic money tree as much as anyone else. But we know that parish clergy are incompletely funded by parish offer so we try to gauge how much of our historic reserves we can use to balance the books and work out how many posts are affordable and sustainable. And we try to communicate effectively how the whole operation works.  Sometimes we get that wrong, we use management speak and come across as nagging about money, and failing to understand the situation on the ground. I’m sorry if you have felt on the receiving end of that, but its because we feel passionately about local churches flourishing and that usually means well supported and resourced clerical and lay leadership - which isn’t free. 

And finally, the centre of the Church of England as I see it, are the local churches in parishes and benefices and deaneries. They are not a problem to be solved by some grand strategic plan but the treasure and jewel of the Church.  They are where God is worshipped, prayer and pastoral care are offered, faith is developed and people are drawn to living faith.  This is of course is the purpose that flows out of our primary calling to worship God. COVID has only brought into sharp focus issues which we have all been aware of for some time. As I go around Sunday by Sunday, I am in awe and admiration for the faithful congregations who give time, energy and yes money to sustain and build ministry. But I also sense a deep sadness too. We can all see the culture around us has changed out of all recognition in the last 50 years.  As a primarily pastoral church we didn’t need to do evangelism, people came to us.  Its really hard when you pour your life into something that is profoundly important to you and sustains you in faith but then see an increasing indifference in the wider community.  You love your church, but have real anxiety about where the next generation of people is coming from to continue the work.

As we revise our diocesan strategy, we need to be honest with one another about all of these things. We need to hear one another’s concerns and empathise at a gut level. Bishops, Archdeacons and Diocesan Staff can seek to foster the conditions for the local church to flourish, but we can’t do outreach for you. We recognise how very hard it will be for us to change our mindset to being Christian in a post-Christian society. In the face of that challenge at every layer of the Church we’ll need to be kind to each other. All of us are actually on the same side.

As we approach herd immunity with the wonderful vaccination programme, its becoming clear that for the virus to survive it has to mutate and get more transmissible. It’s a very resourceful little beast. Our culture is becoming increasingly immune to Christian faith. Wherever our strategy lands, its clear it will have to help us become more distinctively Christian and our faith more transmissible.  We need to work together to make that so.  In the power of the Spirit the church has navigated these transitions before.  There is no reason that if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, we shouldn’t see the same sort of revival in our time.