In part, posts and comments here are on the state of the Anglican church. Sometimes the focus is global and there is much to despair about, since the global Anglican work is that of a 'Communion' and currently we have a Communion mostly in name only. Sometimes the focus is local, life in these islands, with an occasional nod to Anglican life in the West Island, also known as Oz.
When the focus is local, there is also much to despair about. With what statistics we can muster - we have no internal whole-of-church-in-these-islands attendance stats - (including census figures) we are at the very, very best on a plateau. Likely guess is that we continue in statistical decline. If we look aroundabout and see that the booming churches of our cities and major towns are nearly always non-Anglican churches, we might stop and ask what could we learn. In my experience we mostly do not stop, let alone learn. I think we do think about where we are going on the debate over same sex relationships, there is a rather long pause going on because we fear (and especially our bishops fear) division, and yet nobody has - to my knowledge - advanced a way forward which is hopeful for a future together. Then there might be temptations to localised local despair: the way one's diocese is going, the inability of the parish to agree on some detail of a building project, and the lack of harmony in the choir. The usual stuff of ecclesiastical despair!
However I am not personally despairing at all. Optimism is my middle name. Here is a particular reason why.
A privilege of the positions I have held in ministry education for 12+ years in two dioceses is the ability to visit parishes, here and there, town and country, anglo-catholic, broad church and evangelical, early and mid-morning services, and sometimes evening services (though few of these exist these days). I have had, as you might imagine, some interesting experiences of Anglican worship through these years. One service I went to might be the only example in the world of an ecumenical service featuring Roman Catholics, Brethren and Anglican. Another memorable service involved travelling to one of the most remote places of worship in NZ (two hours drive from the nearest town) for a service with a half dozen people. There have been services which have owed little to Anglican liturgical principles, services which took an unbearably long time (I cannot recall any services which were too short!), services in unbearably cold churches, and, yes, services which have inspired and lifted me to heaven. Out of all those services one thing stands out.
I was thinking about this one thing yesterday when in a new-for-me church (where, to my pleasure, the liturgy was excellent and the sermon superb). That one thing is love. In every congregation I can recall, there has been love. The liturgy may have been all over the shop, the sermon have dismally failed to engage the congregation, the music been too loud and the heaters inadequate for the winter frost. But there has been love. It was present in bucket loads yesterday. The secret of the continuing life of local churches is the love each has for the other.
Statistically, we Anglicans in these islands should be worried, much more worried than our leaders ever seem to be about the future. Liturgically, we Anglicans should be exercised, much more exercised than we ever seem to be, over what Anglican liturgy in Kiwiland should look like in the 21st century - especially in respect of inter-generational worship services. Homiletically, we could simply work harder at being better preachers, engaged effectively in connecting Scripture to life and life to God. Controversially, we could search our collective soul much more deeply than we are currently doing, about how we become a church which casts no one out. Yes, we could do better in the areas where we are failing.
But on the one matter which matters above all else, our love for one another, I believe we are succeeding.
And love covers a multitude of (ecclesiastical) sins!
Postscript: for a possible future of the church getting in touch with culture, try this ...
Andrew Brown's comment is here.