The problem: History past and present
Along with everything else at the end of the second world war, the church was in chaos, not enough clergy to fill the livings, poverty at all levels of the population, including the clergy, in both rural and run-down areas in the cities.
This all went hand in hand with a downturn in belief and trust in God because of all the suffering that had happened, and the church had no answer to it. The church had stated that God was in charge and would protect people when clearly that was not their experience. The surge in New Testament teaching and biblical analysis of scripture did little to solve the problem, and the book “Does God exist“ by David Edwards did not stop the growth of atheism.
Along with everyone else the Church said that centralisation was the answer. This they have done more and more over the last 70 years, and now wonder why attendance at Church has seriously fallen and the congregations are largely made up of those over 50 with the occasional exception.
The State has side-lined belief in God as a myth to give the weak support and labelled all faith as controlling and subversive. It has totally forgotten that the Christian Faith is the solid base on which this country has led the world in truth and honesty and justice.
The state along with the rest of the world, is now in a total muddle itself since the very fact of global warming has made it perfectly clear that the Christian faith forms a central part of our understanding of the creation we have been given and the task our Heavenly Father wishes us to do and to be.
What is the Church doing but going down the path that seems to have caused the problem from the start? Money.
As with the international surge in making positive efforts to set right the causes of Global warming, in the same way the Church has to give back total responsibility to the Parish to grow the faith in the parish communities, and to rebuild the love and generosity that comes from belief and trust in the Christian God. We can then reduce almost completely the huge administration structures we have built to justify our human agenda and not God’s love of his creation.
What is The Centre, through Synod trying to do? In response to the thinking that financial viability and political correctness is all that prevents the church from; making great strides and restoring its influence over life, they are trying to set in place ownership of all church property across the country under the control of Synod and the central structure of the Church. Thereby Clergy will be employed by Synod and in charge of areas controlled and run by each Diocese. This should ensure that financial viability is the measure for success or failure!
But you cannot gauge success or failure of pastoral ministry in quantifiable terms that will suit a system that assesses valuation in financial return. It is not a task that anyone can do. We are wrong when we try to control the calling of God in terms of worldly success or failure. The Church has sought to follow this path since the acceptance of the Tiller report by Synod in 1983. The plan of the Archbishops is the next step in that unfortunate decision. It was wrong then and is a recipe for disaster now. Not a good idea! !
Because the Diocesan Centres have helped administer the care, repair and sale of clergy housing. Nonetheless it is still property owned by that parish or living. The parish is charged for this service in their share or quota, along with the stipend of the clergy, pension and insurance and ministry costs. On top of this the parish also has to find the money to run the parish, costs of insurance and safeguarding, regular repair and maintenance of buildings, the clergy and staff expenses, as well as any costs locally to administer all this where it is not done by volunteers. This is all before they can undertake new development work in all the fields of pastoral care, teaching and worship.
It is not that the Church is short of money it is how we spend that money which really matters. The Centres have already pooled the endowment money from the Parishes and most of the Glebe land is administered by the Dioceses and still the Parish is asked for even more money as the other has not bee totally used to support them. Mainly on the principle that if you hold the resources, you control people and do not serve them! Parishes do not exist to serve a system, let alone worship it.
The idea that we will sustain more income by having fewer clergy and expect the laity to fund raise to feed the structures ever-growing appetite is most unlikely to happen at all. In fact, the reverse, since you cannot demand generosity because that then becomes a tax. History tells us that does not work in Christianity. We have created a large administrative monster which eats all the resources we can provide because that is the nature of such monsters.
Thinking of selling buildings or houses which belong to the people in a parish and to shut the parish is a very good self-destruct button. Dictating what the clergy say and do and assessing them and the parish with both practical and financial targets will not work. Clergy are called of God to serve him in all that they do and how they behave in serving others. It is to show unconditional love in action in that community as they live life together and to worship the giver of all life in our obedience to his New Covenant, with the power that his covenant brings.
Response to God’s love in gratitude for all we have and what we can do by working with him, can restore the Trust, Truth and Faith we will need in order to regain the love and gratitude that we need to understand God’s agenda to sustain his creation. The success of God’s love of us as we work together to put right Global warming lies in our local communities being responsible again and sharing our love and forgiveness as we worship and live together. We are humans not “digits”, the things that will enable us to listen to God’s love are not systems. It is our fellow human beings responding to the love of God, lived and shared in our communities. This means taking responsibility and not expecting others to do things for us. We have caused the mess we are in.
The answer as to what we do to handle things today is to face the untruths which have been spread about through the media and governmental systems as to how humanity needs to act in this world for it to continue and remain stable. Selfish pursuit of personal power and wealth as the yardstick is not the way.
Start recognising the truth and purpose of God’s creation of Humanity as revealed to us in Christ. It is not a myth but a matter of history and creation itself. How we respond to the unconditional love of our creator and fulfil his purpose for this wonderful creation we live in, is for us to discover and find out and value and respect God as we move to his agenda and not ours.
It is only when we allow humanity to respond to God’s purpose for us to work with him in the terms of his purpose and not ours, that we will be able to serve God, respect and value each other, and ensure the survival of our planet for future generations. This global warming has woken us up to the fact that the present reality to have more, grow more, and control more is not going to solve the problem. Money and Power, wealth and influence, only have value when they work with God’s rhythm for humanity and his creation. We have the knowledge and skills to do this but only when we respect God and his creation in which he has placed us.
Is this the Way Forward?
This lies in giving people responsibility for who they are and what they do and how they behave in relation to others. It is a corporate responsibility under God and his call, not under governmental dictate, or faith controlling kingdom building, to the exclusion of others.
To achieve respect and peace and harmony and trusted working together can only best be done by understanding that God is the creator of all and the giver of life. He cannot be contained or controlled by a nation or a group of people and made to conform to a human agenda. Why give us the power to respond to good and overcome evil, or pursue evil and seek to control all human activity if this is not to prevent evil overcoming good and destroying life and creation itself.
We have inherited in this country a concept of community which is based on the family and yet encompasses a group of people that makes it an extended family which can have many different forms to unite it and hold it together. Historically this has been enabled to happen by the building a house which belongs to God, and where any one in that community can feel secure in God. In this group a person was appointed to help that group work together with God both in trusting God and each other, to serve him in the ways that benefitted and served each other in the community, both in survival and understanding of the created world in which we live.
It is here that we hit the dichotomy between the human way of working to make people to conform to a plan that suits their immediate thought and desire, which has deviated from God’s plan. His plan evolves through love and understanding, compassion and forgiveness, conforming to that which holds his creation in balance.
Now, with the power that our knowledge of the treasures that this world holds, the world has claimed to be superior to its creator and in its greed for wealth, power and control it now seeks to take away the very essence of our being which is freewill. This freewill enables us to defeat evil and restore our ability to love in response to God’s love of us, which no system of control and order can achieve. Our freewill enables us to respond to the love of our creator and to work with him in the nurture and care of all his creation and defeat evil by the power of his love. Against this we can also choose to follow the many paths of evil and destroy God’s creation in order to have power for ourselves.
In the destruction of the Parish and local community groups, and the importance of having a person on the ground in each community to serve and foster those people ,the centre instead wishes to impose control and influence by imposing financial viability on the parish communities, getting rid of those who fail to conform, selling the very structures that have enabled them to draw on God’s loving purposes. They are treating Faith as a commodity which you can sell to people and ensure their conformity by demanding funds to ensure control.
Does The Diocese hold the key?
It is possible that it does, but the action that it needs to take requires a different way of thinking.
Restore all responsibility back to the parish groups and individual parishes. The Housing,( which they already pay for in their quota or share) and the responsibilities that go with it. All fees that the diocese collects on their behalf to be restored to them. All responsibilities to do with interregnums and payments for use of visiting clergy for cover should be with the Parish. The payment of the Clergy stipend to the diocese is not made until a new incumbent is inducted. The stipend of the clergy is the only payment made to the Diocese by the Parish. The pension can be paid out of Diocesan glebe held by the Diocese.
All fees for the training of the Clergy should be paid for by the centre from the money held by the Church Commissioners. This came originally from the endowments given to the parishes to ensure an Incumbent and taken in hand by the Commissioners in 1976. There is sufficient money available on an annual basis to meet this cost, as well as past pensions of the retired. Thanks to the wise investment of the Commissioners. It also pays most of the costs of the episcopy let alone unspecified central costs and various experimental costs across the Church. The spending and allocating of this annual sum is a serious bone of contention at the centre. The present habit of the centre in placing everything under the loose head of the costing of “ maintaining the ministry of the Church” has carefully placed a smoke screen over what it is actually spent On. Not good.
All this change would entail a new think with the Diocese. The whole structure for parsonages would not be needed. All specialist ministries would be linked and attached to larger congregation who could fund and support their work. Committee work ,advice and responsibility will need reassessment and evaluation on the basis that it is not a question of how they control what goes on in the parish, but how can they support the work being undertaken in the parishes and deaneries.
The parish clergy need the support and love of the Bishop and his advisers to help them in their serving of their parishioners. It is not a question of making people do things, but how we enable them to see in us, as we walk alongside them, the unconditional love of God and how that can help them find and enjoy God in their own lives and be happy and loving, respecting and valuing God and living it out with each other.
The Convocations of Canterbury and York were structures which were there to help and encourage and support the clergy in their parishes which were all independent of any central administration and under the authority of their Bishop. By the end of two world wars, and with the knowledge of creation and God’s direct presence and influence was being seen in a different way, things were changing all over the world, let alone in this country. To enable change to take place systems were devised to help us work together and so impose change through the use of money and governance across the communities. This changed the hopes and expectations of a large community who had been deprived. Materially it gave them a much better life and with education the ability to use new skills to be part of the developing world. Our Leaders in the Church at this time felt that it would right to bring the Convocations into line with modern thinking and have a synod to govern and unite the Church. Democratic representation and seeking a common view was felt to be important. However as we have experienced with National governments, these institutions soon become vehicles of control to ensure power and money to control people and order their conformity. In Great Britain this all can change every 5 years with democratic elections.
In the case of the Church, the executive stays exactly the same even though the representatives in the house of Clergy and that of the Laity may vary. The Synod can only advise on what can happen in the Church, it has no power to impose it. It would appear that the executive at the centre is seeking to obtain authority to totally control the call of clergy to the ministry by obtaining authority to close all subunits that are not politically correct or financially viable or behind in “Voluntary” payments of funds requested, over which they have no control.
I cannot believe that this is what the Bishops or their Dioceses envisage, but it will be what happens unless the Bishops take back looking after their parishes and the re-ordering their administration to give back responsibility to the parish and their clergy, making God’s Plan for us and his creation once again the centre of our calling.
This is not just to prevent our capitulation to the evil that has landed humanity in this mess, it is to ensure that the very people who are expected to know and understand and point out the way to respond to God’s purpose for humanity and restore the balance again in God’s creation, can speak with understanding because they are not caught up in the greed and selfishness that has caused the disaster in the first place.
Action is needed now, not when they have the time, when they have shut all the parishes and think they are financially and politically viable. By then it will be ”TBL.” What God plans to do in the event that those whom he has called have thrown all their toys out of the pram and the world is achieving its own destruction – aheu!