Evangelism / Mission - Catholic Evangelism and Transforming Church/ Transforming

Part I

The Church of England has been facing up to a sort of crisis for the last few years, as we have begun to realise that like most churches and indeed many public institutions- we are in a period of decline, a decline which apparently will statistically continue at least for the next thirty years, the reality being that for every new member of the C of E, 11 are lost! The Archbishop of Canterbury remains optimistic, he and his Council have set up a special Task Force, dedicating resources to an ambitious programme of Renewal and Reform, believing that the long winter is coming to an end ‘the ice is thawing, the spring is coming.’ At the heart of this Renewal and Reform is evangelism, mission, we need to go out like the first disciples and make new disciples, bringing them to Jesus.

 By way of example we are directed to the newer kind of churches which are being founded, the model of Holy Trinity Brompton and church planting, for example a new church in Kings Cross launched in 2010 has 500 members all in their 20’s, St Peter’s in Brighton 800 in five years, nearly £1million has been spent setting up  the ‘Harbour Church’ in Portsmouth – London is aiming at a 100 new worshipping communities by 2020 and the Bishop of Guildford has similar aspirations for our diocese. Church planting is a key part of Welby’s strategy.

The Archbishops council’s plans for reform are not without  critics, some leading clergy speaking of many of us becoming ‘exiles in our institution’ and a church in the grip of a small elite of ‘organisationally minded evangelicals who think the church is a biddable, shapeable, governable body, whereas its more complex, messy, and knotty’. Our own Robert Cotton (HT Guildford) says there is ’an increasing disconnect between the overall programme’… and ‘the ministry we do in parishes’ – especially the emphasis on membership-  he says ‘membership is not the language that I and those who live in the soggy middle of the C of E often use- we want people to come to church.. but the church is not essentially ‘a membership organisation.’ Cotton like many of us see the C of E  as a church that serves the whole nation – as he concludes,not ‘a narrow sect, driven by mission minded middle managers, who are alienating clergy, congregations and the general public… In the recently published, ‘Future shapes of Anglicanism’ the Church is described as ‘ being kettled into becoming a suburban sect, corralling its congregations, controlling its clergy and centralising communication…theologically narrow’ instead of being ‘a local dispersed, national institution….’.

With this kind of discussion going on we should take note of what is being said so that when we look at latest Diocesan initiative ’Transforming Church,  Transforming lives’ or indeed any other initiative such as that to be launched by the Bishops of The Society, who head up our  constituency in the Church of England, we go in with eyes wide open and brains engaged, rather than swallow it all, hook, line and sinker!

How we tackle any of what we read or hear,  has first and foremost, take account of where we are, who we are, the tradition we belong to and the resources currently available to us. From our own constituency the Bishop of Burnley, and he must be flavour of the month, because he has just been promoted to Diocesan status and is well thought of by Welby because of the way he stands up and speaks for the deprived communities at Synod and elsewhere, he too is wary of the direction the C of E leadership is taking, with its ‘middle class culture…. Letting its agenda ‘be set not by the poor but by academics, the monied elite and certain sections of the secular media’ – a church ‘so disconnected from deprived communities that it no longer hears what they are saying,’ he recently called on General Synod ‘to put its best leaders in deprived parishes and return to the estates it has abandoned.’ He thinks we have been focussing too heavily on the middle classes, stating that ‘the battle for the Christian soul of this nation will not be won in Kensington or Cobham or Harrogate but on the estates where life is hard and Church life is fading fast’ – don’t you just love him, for isn’t much of what we saw in the visual presentation for Transforming Church, Transforming Lives set against this background whereas our church, our mission, is set in the kind of context of which Bishop Philip speaks from experience , the poorest communities, the estates, yes we have lots of new housing in North Town, but a lot of the people who live in them are those for whom, he says, ‘the church is least present’. Much of what Bishop Philip says could apply not just to North Town but to Aldershot as a whole- the church is under resourced- and what about St Michael’s –no priest for over a year! Cobham or indeed Weybridge –it aint!

The fundamental question for us is, I suppose, where do we go from here, how do we fit into the wider context I have tried to outline? What can we realistically do about mission and evangelism – what should we be doing about mission and evangelism if we are to be faithful to that catholic tradition  which has been the basis of the mission and ministry of this church for over 100 years! Speaking of our constituency and parishes just like ours, Bp Philip speaks  of the uncertainty of the past 20 years (women priests etc) which has ‘frozen many clergy in time’ and parishes where there has been ‘a sense of not quite knowing what to try next. Of course we are just as anxious as the next church about the size of our congregation   but as the Bishop has outlined on more than one occasion, ‘we somehow don’t fit into the Church of England’s dialogue about evangelism, we don’t recognise or relate to the language the Anglican Mission industry has adopted- the jargon of ‘Fresh Expressions’. He says we have ‘a very different and usually unexplored understanding of what Evangelism is – and so of what we are trying to do when we evangelise’. He says our kind of parishes have a ’reputation for running small, declining churches that are struggling financially and are often arguably unviable’, he says in the contemporary C of E the sad fact is that the phrase ‘anglo-catholic’ is usually synonymous with ‘weak, declining, unengaged’- talk about make you feel good about yourself! He counters this by saying that we are present in the places no one else wants to go and operate in parishes where success is a very hard thing to measure! I know that has been my experience of nearly 40 years in ministry!

A tradition like ours is not something we can easily abandon or escape from is it? Yet the fashion is to play down tradition and where evangelism is concerned, well its just a case of ‘get rid of it!’ For Anglicans in the Catholic tradition, this is to miss a vital point, for the tradition we belong to will greatly influence how we think about and do Evangelism –and it‘s  not just a case of style or taste, a guitars versus Latin chasubles - what we understand Evangelism  to be is very different to what our evangelical friends think it to be-tradition is about theology ,how we find, understand and worship God in his Church. The trouble is we have seemingly lost confidence in Catholic Evangelism, instead of rejoicing in having a distinctive and  different approach we rather think ourselves somehow wanting, second rate and so we try to copy the methods and approaches of others and adopt their language. To illustrate this point Bishop Philip tells of his own experience of a Church Growth Conference, where the visual aid plotted a course towards full church membership and a picture of a wallet, the sign of real commitment! For Anglican Catholics Bp Philip says the wallet should be replaced by a chalice (CBS presentation), the purpose of our mission and evangelism being to bring people to Jesus in the Eucharist – that’s reflected in our church’s mission statement and it should very much be part of any thinking we do at the end of this month at the Open Meeting. Why do we want to bring people to God in the Eucharist- because in the Bishop’s words, the ‘purpose of our human lives is to gaze upon God and so experience for all eternity the perfect joy which comes from a right relationship with Him.’ At the heart of the Gospel we believe in is the belief that we have access to the Father through the gracious death of his Son – in the Eucharist we glimpse the goal of Jesus’s saving work, at the altar we feed on the saving power of the Cross –there at the altar we see our life’s purpose which is the pure contemplation of God as we gaze upon, adore and consume the Bread of Heaven. Of course many in today’s church think the Eucharist is too complicated, it certainly we didn’t see much of the sacramental life in the’ Transforming Church, Transforming Lives’ presentation. Yes there may well be other options which can be useful tools for engaging with families and children but they can only be a beginning on the road to conversion –Bp Philip says to deny people the Eucharist is to argue that a couple of clapping songs and a badge making workshop represents the fullness of Christian life – our task, as Catholic Anglicans will always be  to bring people to Jesus in the Eucharist!

Well that’s enough for today– 2 hand Outs to read,(couples share) a summary of ‘Transforming Church, Transforming Lives’ and a kind of Anglican Catholic alternative – we will be discussing both at the meeting on February 26th –look for similarities, ask yourselves what our priorities should be and then ask  what are the resources we have at this precise moment in time and what can we realistically do with them. Please Think and Pray –next week I will look further at  evangelism from the Anglican Catholic and think abou twhere our priorities might  if we want our church to grow and be fully engaged with both the Diocesan initiative and the one stemming from the Bishops of our own constituency!  

Part II

To recap, last week set the context for Evangelism (and Mission) within the framework of the present situation in the C of E as we try to look for growth. We noted the 2 directions this is going –those aiming for a membership church, which critics say will make the C of E a sect and those who see the C of E as being the Church for the nation. We also noted the difference from what is becoming the mainstream trends in Anglican evangelism, an example of which is ‘Fresh Expressions’ and what we understand to be ‘catholic’ evangelism and more appropriate to our constituency within the Church of England.

Before talking in more detail about where we might be going with ‘catholic’ evangelism, I would first like to say that whatever shape or form our evangelism takes, I am firmly of the old school that we are the Church for the Nation, in other words we are here for everyone and offer our ministry to everyone. It is pleasing that some of the more trendy clergy quoted last week support this view and indeed our retiring Archdeacon sat in my study shortly before Christmas affirming this as we discussed the vital importance of traditional parochial ministry, the bedrock of which is the occasional offices, baptisms, weddings, funerals and all the pastoral ministry that takes place out there in the community. A kind of  ministry that  takes much of a parish priest’s time and energy; it is this kind of ministry that the C of E seems to increasingly be turning its back on in the drive to fill the pews, not least because such ministry doesn’t very often make new members neither does  it make the kind of money needed to maintain what many of us see as a top heavy structural institution  – that goes on swallowing our money to maintain a system that just would not survive in the world of big business!

So what should we be doing here, what should be the basis of how we look at ‘ Transforming Church/ Transforming Lives’ or any other initiative? First we need to be confident about who we are as we face a future that is just as uncertain for the rest of the C of E –as one commentator recently remarked, the ‘whole of the C of E is term limited’ unless there is a major culture change! Of course we want our church to grow, we want to see it grow in number, we want to see it grow in depth of discipleship and we want to see it grow as a loving, welcoming community – and our core task will always be to obey Our Lord’s command to ‘Go make disciples and Baptise them…’ (Matt 28). We want new people to regard their Baptism as the most important thing in their lives and we want them to stick with their Faith. Fr Damien Feeney ( a big thinker/theologian for our constituency- mass in ASDA etc)  says we should be ‘catechising shamelessly and intentionally and supporting them (newcomers) to live the Catholic Christian life. We won’t be doing this if we abandon our principles, principles the wider C of E, says it respects - but says Fr Damien, there are things we need to do and do well. First, he says, we need to look our life of prayer, not just the offices and the Mass in our parishes but our own personal prayer. Prayer, he says, is our great ally – a church that turns towards her Saviour in adoration, a church conscious of the life of the spirit will only be HELPED  to grow and flourish. He says, we need to equip ourselves for the challenge. We need to pray hard, swallow and do it –we need to develop a systematic programme of training amongst ourselves –the parishes of The Society and we need to be clear about our own identity within in the Church of England and proclaim our faith in a joyful manner. We need to think about our own response to the Love of Jesus shown to us supremely on the cross and proclaimed and made known in every Mass– a love that calls us to respond in mission, the work of building up his Body on Earth. He says we need to be welcoming( yes I hear you say- we know that!) but Fr D says, where he comes from,  Lancashire, it is said that  the people who go  to church, go to stop other people going’, a statement in which there is a tiny grain of truth –he quotes the kind of remark oftenheard at Christmas when you hear someone say ‘well they won’t be back til next Christmas’ as he says you don’t hear Department Stores saying that! WE never know do we  when the occasional can become the habitual if we treat people the right way and help people take the first steps..!

And very important, he says, we need to be intentional – we need to be intentional about growing numerically and spiritually, in mutual love and in the depth of faith. Let it be said of us, he concludes ‘that we are characterised not only by being steadfast in belief, but also in the generosity of our welcome, a church where those who are asking questions, those who are troubled or are seekers after truth may find a real and lasting home’!

This very much fits in with how Bishop Philip North (new Bishop of Sheffield), whom I quoted last week sees it, for at the heart of Catholic Evangelism is an emphasis on the community rather than the individual- ‘when we evangelise,’ Bishop Philip says, ‘we are not just calling people to individual conversion, we are calling them to belong to a community of faith.’ In ‘a lonely and fractured world ….. we are inviting people to belong’ …’ making a family out of strangers.’ He says people may struggle with their personal faith but all of us can understand what it means to belong’ I find that quite a profound and useful thought!

There must of course be more than just being friendly and welcoming, as Bp Philip reminded us in New Directions (Feb 2016)in his summary of the Church of England’s recent great tome on Mission and Evangelism, ‘From Anecdote to evidence’ –‘Churches grow when they do some stuff’ – what stuff’ –‘What matters is doing something’ what matters is taking positive steps to reach out beyond the existing congregation to those on the fringes –and he calls this ‘intentional evangelism’ – a phrase used by the Bishops of the Society in the document I handed out last Sunday –  ‘intentional’ a word favoured by Damien Feeney too! Yes let’s do some stuff. If Catholic evangelism is rooted in a positive vision of what it means to be human, what can we do to proclaim that vision? It may as Bp Philip suggests, mean finding a new way to serve our local community….. or being more involved in the world of education, or campaigning for justice around an issue that is damaging family life in our community. It may mean adjusting the way we teach and preach so that we answer the questions that people are asking. It may be we need to open up our church more during the week or improve its appearance. WE may need to revisit our ministry of welcome –the first 30 seconds are just so important when a visitor enters the church! He also asks us to consider whether our social events are engaging with outsiders or just for the in crowd? Can we help each other to invite others into church –are we aware of the evangelistic dimension of the occasional offices. What are we doing to help people on their journey towards sanctification – may be need more nurturing and exploring of the Faith, may be need to teach more about Confession or reimagine Healing ministry, or promote pilgrimage not just for the old but for the young! And as far as our Sunday worship is concerned –Bishop Philip says we should concentrate ‘huge energies’ on it- if the Eucharist is the heart of our evangelism, then we need to be ordering it to the best of our abilities, making the most of the musical and liturgical resources available to us!

As Bishop Philip reminds us ‘No parish can do everything’, and certainly that message came out of my session with the Archdeacon of Surrey. The question is what is God calling us to do next? As the Archdeacon said in relation to Transforming Church/ Transforming lives ‘Keith choose two or three things’, he realises we don’t have many resources, not least the human ones!

To conclude, words of Bishop Philip again, ‘If we plan for decline, we’ll get decline, If we plan for growth, then surely God will bless us!’ We need passion if we want to bring our nation back to Christ rather than adopt the default mode expressed in many parts of the C of E- genteel decline into irrelevancy and bankruptcy!

Bishop Philip encourages us to go forward with enthusiasm- we will make progress, we will succeed, because he says, ‘We have the tools, we have the life- saving, life giving Gospel of Christ –we have the sacraments, we have the Risen Christ in our midst!

Bishop Philip urges us on to be more intentional in our mission and evangelism  turning to St Paul for  inspiration:

‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ but how are they to call on  one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

So let’s pray hard and think hard, and I hope we can look forward to a fruitful discussion at our open meeting on February 26th.