Gloomy Outlook for the C.of E. – The Archbishops’ Report

Church of England cannot carry on as it is unless decline ‘urgently’ reversed – Welby and Sentamu

Church of England should put faith in Facebook and Twitter to help reverse dwindling congregations, say Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu

It could face a dramatic shortage of priests within a decade as almost half of the current clergy retire, according to the Most Rev Justin Welby and Dr John Sentamu.

Meanwhile dwindling numbers in the pews will inevitably plunge the Church into a financial crisis as it grapples with the “burden” of maintaining thousands of historic buildings, they insisted.

But the two archbishops also called for the Church to invest more in building up its presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get its message across online as part of a “major programme of renewal and reform”.

Their blunt assessment of the Church’s prospects came in a paper for members of its ruling General Synod, which meets in London next month, setting out the case for an overhaul of finances and organisation to turn its fortunes around.

Typical Sunday attendances have halved to just 800,000 in the last 40 years – although the Church has previously claimed the decline has been levelling off in recent years.

Income from donations in the offering plate has risen slightly in the last few years as declining congregations dig deeper.

The two archbishops gave their backing to a series of reports calling for administrative changes in the Church to be debated by the Synod next month but added: “Renewing and reforming aspects of our institutional life is a necessary but far from sufficient response to the challenges facing the Church of England.”

They went on: “The urgency of the challenge facing us is not in doubt.

“Attendance at Church of England services has declined at an average of one per cent per annum over recent decades and, in addition, the age profile of our membership has become significantly older than that of the population.

“Finances have been relatively stable, thanks to increased individual giving.

“This situation cannot, however, be expected to continue unless the decline in membership is reversed.

“The age profile of our clergy has also been increasing. Around 40 per cent of parish clergy are due to retire over the next decade or so.

“And while ordination rates have held up well over recent years they continue to be well below what would be needed to maintain current clergy numbers and meet diocesan ambitions.

“The burden of church buildings weighs heavily and reorganisation at parish level is complicated by current procedures.”

They said the Church’s current arrangements for deciding each diocese’s allotment of clergy and cash are increasingly viewed as out of date and widely ignored, adding: “There is no central investment in reaching out into the digital and social media world.

“If the Church of England is to return to growth, there is a compelling need to realign resources and work carefully to ensure that scarce funds are used to best effect.”

Last year The Rt Rev Christopher Goldsmith, the Bishop of St Germans, in Cornwall, warned that the church in the areas was facing a “death spiral” unless parishioners put more money in the offering plate.

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It may seem rather strange that both Archbishops of the Church of England, The Rt. Revv: Justin Welby and John Sentamu, should put their faith in Face-Book and Twitter as potential saviours of the Church – according to the following statement by John Bingham in The Telegraph:

” the two archbishops also called for the Church to invest more in building up its presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get its message across online as part of a “major programme of renewal and reform”.

Also, in an oblique reference to what is probably the recently issued ‘Green Report’, which put forward a plan to revolutionise the leadership of the Church by subjecting its elite clergy to a programme of leadership management as preparation for preferment; the 2 archbishops would seem to be readying the Church of England for a top-down shuffle in the hope of securing a more secure foothold for the Church’s place in society in the immediate future.

This sounds rather more like the panic stations mentality of a threatened secular business organisation – than the Gospel Mission of the Christian Church; which surely must thrive on the health and well-being of its most vulnerable members in order to thrive in the modern world.

Those of us who do not reside in the British Isles, but are yet connected with the Mother Church of England, can only wonder at the idea that a greater involvement in the social media outlets of Face-Book and Twitter would serve to bring about a resurrection of the social influence of the Church of England – to the point where its probity and spiritual influence might be brought to bear on the outstanding social issues of the day?

Perhaps the Church’s reluctance to overcome factors like its perceived homophobia and misogyny, over many years, when their eradication in other parts of the world-wide Anglican Communion have proceeded apace, could have something to do with the Church’s abandonment by the young, because of its antiquated attitude towards the world it is called to serve. Today’s young people are disposed to think for themselves- especially on matters of gender and sexuality, with an outcome that seem to be at odds with the reluctance of the Church to embrace new understandings of the underlying causes of the evolution of social attitudes towards women and the LGBT community – both within and without the influence of the Church.

Let’s hope that the Archbishops’ fears – of the collapse of the Church because of disillusionment by its would-be membership – might be allayed by the response of members of the next General Synod, who will need to be determined to redress the situation in ways that the general public will recognise as both relevant and necessary.

The implementation of a perceived programme of justice for all may be necessary for the Church to regain the confidence of its adherents and those it wishes to disciple for Christ.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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