After the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it is clear that without radical and systemic change our planet is going to be irrevocably altered in the next few decades. It is so hard for us to imagine a world without fossil fuels and all the comforts we have come to take for granted in our Western culture that we can find ourselves paralysed in making the lifestyle changes we need to. We have built our world so utterly in one pattern that to see another shape is very hard.
It is the same for the Church of England. While it is clear that church attendance has been declining in recent years and that decline shows little sign of slowing down, it is incredibly hard to picture a world in which there is not a church in every parish. As Andrew Rumsey (soon to be Bishop of Ramsbury) writes in his book “Parish”, “If culture is on one level what human practice makes of the earth, more than one thousand years of parochial life amounts to a unique cultural inscription into the landscape.”
Parish churches have for many centuries defined our Anglican worship, but we face a future where sustaining church buildings with smaller and increasingly elderly congregations is harder and harder. I was part of a discussion recently where we imagined various scenarios of what the Anglican church might look like in 50 years. The scenarios ranged from “staggering on” to whole-scale cutting back of church buildings. It was interesting to note our emotions as we peered at various more radical options and how some shied away from the thought of the pain and difficulty of implementing them.
If we have to live in a world though which needs to learn to cut its cloth to enable all to survive and thrive – should the church not be prophetic and look to itself first?