Beyond questions of catholic, evangelical, protestant, reformed character to our Anglican church in these islands, and certainly beyond whether we should be wearing these rather than those robes, or indeed any robes at all, the urgent question for Anglicans in these islands is whether we are willing to address the question of our continuing decline. Or not.
Tucked away in our Christchurch synod papers were statistics for our annual attendance, statistics which show continuing decline. Though we do not share these diocesan statistics with each other in our church, I would be surprised if any other episcopal unit was showing definitive signs of a trend in growth. (Even the Nelson Diocese, famous for growth in the 1990s, has been declining in the 2000s). Likely we share this decline with other denominations, at least the historic ones (save perhaps for the Roman Catholics). But I will let their bloggers speak for themselves. What might Anglicans think, say and do in order to be a church with a future?
The urgency of this question, we might begin by noting, is not only about regional or national statistics. Supposing we had all those stats at our finger tips, the graph of decline would see us existing as a church for at least a century to come, both regionally and nationally. (Our Christchurch annual attendance, for instance, is in the 400,000s, so it would take a while to whittle that down to zero). No, the urgency is that at the level of parishes and rohe, some will not exist in twenty years (or less) time. Further, closing parishes and rohe down could exacerbate regional decline (i.e. when down to the last twenty at worship and the decision to close, say, via amalgamation is taken, all twenty may not simply transfer to another church - there will be statistical bleeding in the process). Readers here may recall me posting about 18 months ago my shock at the number of Methodists churches for sale or recently sold in Christchurch. Their fate could be our future unless we address the situation with boldness and preparedness for change.
The urgency of the question posed above, we might also usefully note, is not the same as the urgency of the question of the general future of church-going Christianity in NZ: there are plenty of large churches in a city such as Christchurch, filled with young people (meaning, children, teens, young adults, young married couples) carrying within themselves the hope of the future of Christianity in these islands.
No, we Anglicans face the questions of whether or not we have a future beyond the end of this century, and what character to our life will best take us forward into that future.
The decisions of the synods of the Dioceses of Auckland and Waiapu at the weekend raise for me several questions about our future if they are joined by other dioceses in rejecting the Covenant and in pushing for quick action on the blessing of same sex partnerships.
(1) Could we become the church characterised in public perception as 'the gay church'? Would that be good for our future existence beyond this century?
(2) Does an unwillingness to embrace the Covenant represent a deep seated antipathy to doing anything substantial together in respect of joining in a combined strategy for evangelism and outreach, and for training and education together towards a coherent national mission and ministry?
Even if these questions are way off beam - I am confident commenters will tell me one way or another - the urgent need of our church to address the matter of decline remains. It is simply a fact that we have a significant number of parishes over-represented by elderly people in their Sunday congregations. These congregations have no future unless there is change. Whether the change is to the style or the substance (or both) of the service, in my judgement some radical change is required in these congregations or they will cease to exist. In a number of parishes these congregations are the only congregations, so the future of the parish as a parish is under threat.
A lurking question is then whether we can make the necessary changes in an Anglican way or not. If we make change in (say) a Pentecostal way, that will as surely lead to the end of Anglicanism here as if we make no change at all.
In my view change in an Anglican way will require us to hold our catholic and reformed heritage together very tightly, judiciously employing our protestant character (i.e. willingness to do things differently) along with an evangelical passion (i.e. urgency to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ).
Time is running out.
All is not lost. I remind readers here that there are many examples of vibrant Anglican congregations in these islands, peopled in a balanced manner with young and old. But in every case I can think of some kind of radical change has taken place to the way things were once done in these ministry units.
Radical change is only painful when it is resisted!