At least not in the case of our Archbishop Philip Richardson who has issued a statement this Advent which I think is the best I have ever read from our archbishops over the years. Punchy. Pointed. Purposeful.
The whole is at Taonga.
Here are the money sentences (with words which especially warm my heart emboldened):
"The 2013 census on religious affiliation contains few surprises. Not even the decline in Anglican affiliation should catch us unawares.
These trends liberate us from notions of self-importance and turn us back to our fundamental calling.
They also situate our Church more on the margins of our society, where we really belong.
My immediate response, then, is thankfulness to God that we are being refined, called to repentance and to a refocusing of our mission. It’s an exciting and challenging time to be in Christian leadership.
Following Jesus has always been fundamentally counter-cultural. And the Church has always been most authentically the Body of Christ when it is salt and leaven rather than the ‘religious’ dimension of modern society
Wherever I go in the Church I see signs of renewed and re-invigorated Christian discipleship
An Advent challenge for all who profess Christian faith is to critique our ministry and to try harder to live out our discipleship of Christ.
Our Church may be smaller numerically, but we may also be more authentically Christ’s Church as we recover our saltiness and become real leaven.
Odd as it may sound, then, the census elicits in me both excitement and possibility. It calls me back to the fact that we are first and foremost the Body of Christ, not an institution, and that ultimately we are called to “give ourselves away”.
As agents of God’s unchanging love, we are challenged to engage wholeheartedly in the world, proclaiming God’s justice, peace and love. This life is no waiting room; this is the time and place where we are a foretaste of a whole new way of being.
Now I happen to think, continuing in the vein of thinking here, that we have a long way to go in repentance, refinement and refocusing. But this is a great start.
A few of my own thoughts (in no particular order of importance or self-importance).
(1) If we are to cease being an 'institution' and become what in Christ we are meant to be, 'the Body of Christ,' then I think we need to do some work on our clobber. Last night I was at a splendid, rich and rousing installation service* for our new Dean, Lynda Patterson. Naturally this brought out quite a few persons in robes beyond the basic clerical attire of alb-and-stole. And what a varied and hard-to-decipher collection of additional robes they were (e.g. for the proverbial visiting Martian, what would she have made of the variety?). When we dress up with these additional robes for such an occasion, it strikes me (at least, anyone else?) that we are expressing ourselves as though we heartily believe we are an 'institution' and a rather 'self-important' one in the centre of society rather than the 'Body of Christ' living on the margins. If ++Philip is right then we should do some work on what that means for how we dress for the splendid and important symbolic occasions in our life together. Is he right?
(2) To be refined, to repent, and to refocus our mission, are great biblical actions - frequent themes in the prophets, for example. But, in the spirit of the phrase 'critique our ministry,' what is being refined and/or needs to be refined? Of what and from what is God calling us to repent? On what is the refocusing of our mission to be? I suspect we could all agree on these questions. But, arguably, the decline in our statistics is a warning that we have little time to secure agreement on the answers!
(3) ++Philip picks up a new resolve in our church to think of ourselves as disciples. He makes an excellent (and New Testament) point that being disciples is about living out 'a foretaste of a whole new way of being.' There lies a singular challenge for us in an age of many new ways of being. How can we live as disciples a way of being which engages people as the first disciples did according to the Acts of the Apostles? In those days the key to the burgeoning life of the not-yet-an-institution was the Holy Spirit. As we renew and reinvigorate discipleship, do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to come in a new Pentecost?
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*I regret not thinking faster after the service last night. We could have had a photo of the bloggers responsible for Liturgy, Available Light, Broken Moments, Anglo-Catholic Liberality, and ADU!