Were I to be given dictatorial powers over the Church of England I would do three things:
1. abolish the parish share system and require parishes to do two things instead, a) tithe their income to the Diocese and b) pay for their own ministers (singly or shared across congregations);
2. install all ordinands approved for training into seven year training posts, housed and salaried, split 50:50 between academic training and incumbency mentoring. Ordinations would happen in years 3 and 5;
3. re-establish the position of ‘lay incumbent’ who takes on all the duties and responsibilities to do with church fabric and site management, letting priests just be priests.
I believe that these measures – which could be implemented fairly swiftly and straightforwardly – would release a great spiritual energy. All we need is faith and nerve on the part of the powers that be…
People might have noticed some of the claims being made by politicians across the pond about how the US might soon be ‘energy independent’, that new discoveries of oil might lead the US to be called ‘Saudi America’ (eg here)
The particular trigger for this language is something called the ‘Bakken Shale’ in North Dakota, which has been developed heavily over the last few years (since the explosion in the oil price in 2008 basically). This oil resource has indeed made a difference to the oil produciton of the United States:
The ‘puffers’ appear to believe that this increase in US production is a) going to be sustained over time, and b) will make a significant difference to the US economy. I believe that such a view is… misguided. This is the forecast:
In other words, the Bakken Shale represents a great short-term boost to a situation, but not a long term answer.
As I ponder this, I can’t help but be struck by the parallels with the Church of England. Membership of the church has been declining for a very long time, a trend partly disguised by the rise in population in England through the twentieth century. Measured as a proportion of the population, the number of CofE Easter communicants has declined steadily from 8.8% of adults in 1922 down to 2.3% of adults in 2010. (source)
Now, in the context of such a significant and long-standing decline, it is understandable that people seize upon the equivalents of ‘Bakken Shales’ – anything which offers the prospect of changing the pattern. The latest wheeze is ‘Fresh Expressions’. Yet the real solution to the oil crisis is not a more and more diligent search for new oil-fields; rather, it is to change our patterns of life in such a way that the demand for oil declines faster than the supply.
What is the equivalent for the church? Well, I’m not completely sure of the answer to that, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t involve holding on to the ‘sunk costs’ of the existing ‘drilling equipment’ and ‘oil-based infrastructure’. Our inherited architecture and establishment patterns of ministry may have served us well in a time of abundance; now they are simply costs that will sink us. We don’t need to keep the oil supply flowing; we don’t need to keep our extremely impressive ecclesiastical SUVs; rather, we need to learn to enjoy the riding of bicycles….
I believe that there are two forms of relationship (not mutually exclusive) that can each be vehicles for the holy, and worthy of being blessed by the church.
The first is a Covenant, entered into for the mutual affection, aid and support of the parties concerned. This can be male and female, gay and straight, short and tall, of all different sorts. The important point is the nature of the relationship to be affirmed, which is for the relevant parties to decide, and that they wish the relationship to be affirmed and given support and substance by God.
The second is a Parenting Bond – that is, when two people come together and wish to form a family. This is (in origin) something which is only available to a male/female couple even where, for all sorts of other reasons, there are now other forms of parenting. I believe that the wider society has a strong and legitimate claim to be involved in this form of relationship, given the consequences of poor parenting upon that wider society, and that this form of relationship is therefore distinctly different to the first.
I believe that the wider conversations on this topic are bedevilled by a failure to distinguish between these two forms of relationship. It doesn’t matter to me which one gets called by the ‘m’ word, although I suspect a lot of hassle could be saved by keeping it for the second. That’s not a theological point though.
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