Monday, December 16, 2013

Best Archbishop's Advent Statement Ever?

What do poor NZ religious census figures call for from church leadership? Mea culpa? Try harder, folks! Best we smooth the pillow of a dying church?


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.
Happy Advent!"

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?

- - - - -
*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!


liturgy said...

Yes, great missed photo opportunity! :-(

Just as some here regard growing church numbers as a sign and blessing of orthodoxy (even though Kevin Ward has established that it is essentially sheep-stealing, and only 3.9% are actually converts), so we can tend to the opposite also.

Nineteenth century anglo-catholic priests would be distressed if their congregations were more than a few because they would suspect the purity and radicalness of their gospel preaching and life.

Your second point already veers from the shrinking-is-a-good-sign paradigm with your fear that we have little time.

We live in the midst of some who interpret shrinking-as-a-good-sign in statements about the destruction of our city being good economically. If that were the case, we should regularly destroy a city to improve our country’s economy!

Advent Blessings


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
There is quite a lot to think about re numbers: Jesus envisages only a few being chosen yet sets his disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world ...

On the one hand I am unashamedly a 'church growth' proponent. I think we should try to grow the church rather than (say) complacently accept the status quo (even if that is the current church building filled each Sunday) or wring our hands in despair as numbers decline.

On the other hand I understand that filled churches may mean little about (say) whether the truth is being preached faithfully and (say) a lot about marketing techniques.

On the matter of little time: I understand that lower numbers likely means a refined church (and thus a good thing). I am making the point that it is one thing to move from vast numbers of not actually committed folk to the faithful few and another thing to move from the faithful few to nobody left.

Indeed I recall one of those bloggers present last night mentioning recently that the graph suggests the Anglican church here will not exist in a couple of decades time :)

As for "your" argument for the virtues of destruction ... that's also an argument for the virtues of war!?

liturgy said...

Peter, you can be sure of one thing: when, 20 years from now, Anglicans are deconsecrating the last of our buildings, turning it over to be used as a cafe/cinema, they will be carefully robed, each person signalling to the other their particular status and churchmanship, and making sure that the media reports the five participants using their correct titles.

Father Ron Smith said...

"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." - Peter Carrell -

This is the most heartening statement I have yet encountered on ADU, Peter, since I began interacting on your blog.

I'm reminded of last night's stunning Sermon by Bishop Kelvin Wright, whose diocese has suffered the most in ACANZP from attrition. He mentioned the fact that - despite everything going on around us - we often miss the substantial acts of Gospel-motivated Love and Care being exercised, often in a quiet unassuming way, by those Christians who do not seek the limelight, but have recognised God's call upon their lives - to loving service of the marginalised of our complex society.

He also mentions something that I think is most important in the present context of arguments about the future of a Cathedral in The Square. Acknowledging the stunning utility of our transitional Cathedral, he reminded us of the fact that "Here is no abiding city", and that every cathedral - from ancient, through mediaeval to modern, is 'transitional' in its own time and space.

In an exciting 15 minute sermon, we were treated to the Gospel truth, that we are not saved by dogma - that all we have to give is Love - which is at the heart of God and of all God's children. It just needs to be exercised!


Anonymous said...

All I'm hearing in the address are excuses for failure. "Hey, we are more authentic and radical because we are declining!" Decline is not a sign of being more authentic, or more radical. It's a sign of DECLINE.

On the first Pentecost, after Peter preached, thousands came to saving faith in Christ. Thousands, in one day.

The decline is not because the AC is more authentic or radical, it is because we have sold the power of the Gospel for a mess of modernist ideologies and idols.

And far from being "on the margins" the Anglican Church in NZ is very much right in the center of the State's program of Cultural Marxism.

The State says we must embrace the Treaty, so we embrace, uncritically, the Treaty.

The State says we must embrace "Human Rights", so we embrace "human Rights".

The State says we must embrace the ideology of multiculturalism, so we embrace the ideology of multiculturalism.

The State says we must embrace gay rights, and what do you know.....

We are not at the margins. We are in bed with the devil.

And the Archbishop, who does not see the real problem, does not understand it, and has no answer to it, so gives us easy clichés about refocusing.

Our leaders are asleep at the wheeel.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Wonderful though it is to be praised, the words you cite in my name were penned by ++Philip!

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts.

Embracing the view that the Church should grow does not mean embracing the Church Growth Movement. I tend to thing the CGM is used as a strawman to attack those of us who do not see the catastrophic decline of the AC as a good thing.

The problem of the corrosive effects of modernity is not confined to Liberalism. Evangelical churches need to do a great deal of soul searching and self-critique here as well. Far too much of modern Evangelicalism is exactly that, modern, as in embracing the ideology of the so-called Enlightenment. Taking on the odd "conservative" political cause here and there does not change that, it's just wallpapering over the cracks.

Father Ron Smith said...

Having had the privilege of sharing a part of my theological education with both Bishop Kelvin and Archbishop Philip - during a period of lively theological fecundity at St. john's College in Auckland - I can say, without fear of contradiction that both of these have been called by our loving God to lead in today's assembly of ACANZP. Their obvious love of all God's children equips them to cope with all situations of worldly-seeming 'success' - in times both good and not-so-good.

Their preaching skills - though short on scathing rhetoric towards God's world - is yet prophetic, in its reminder to the Church of Whom and what we are called to serve as both clergy and people of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa/N.Z.

Both the Archbishop's sermon to us at St. Michael's, Christchurch at Micahelmas, and the Bishop Kelvin's sermon to our diocese on Sunday night at Dean Lynda's Installation, have been paradigms of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world for which He died. You can't ask for more than that.

And as for your dig about clergy raiment, Peter. If you only knew the intent of vestments, you would be aware that, like all the other appurtenances of liturgical celebration - e.g., those in the first Temple built by Solomon - are to demonstrate the glory and the beauty of God's-Self. But then. I suppose this could be mistaken for hubris on the part of the wearer - a bit like the use of a Harley-Davidson, or a 10kg Bible for a cult leader

Remember the Scriptures: "In every place incense shall be offered unto my Name and a pure offering" says the Lord of Hosts". How many evangelical churches, with clergy in jeans and tee shirt, offer that sort of tribute to the glory of the Living God?

(Anyway, I didn't robe on Sunday, but I noticed you there in pure white alb and stole).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
My dig at robes is not a dig at raiments worn to symbolise the glorification of God in Christian worship. I very carefully made the dig about what robes mean in respect of the glorification of the church as an institution when simultaneously we are trying to proclaim the authentic simplicity of discipleship in gospel mode (when no one dressed up to follow Jesus and the church was a gathering if people around Jesus and not an institution).

To my way of thinking we have robes in Anglican life which are unnecessary. It is not necessary to illustrate rank, for instance, with Archdeacons dressing differently to other clergy. It is not necessary for robes, if they are going to be worn to be taken on and off during a service. It is certainly not necessary for God to be glorified to have a reader bowing to the verger!

I cannot imagine even the headiest heights of AngloCatholicism requiring that robes be worn to indicate hierarchical roles. That is the glorification of humanity, not the glorification of God.

Father Ron Smith said...

But, Peter, despite your fervent inner feelins expressed here, you still wore your spotless white alb, clerical collar and stole, which marked you out - like it or not - in your own words, as a hierarchical Church member.

If you really believed in what you were saying, you would be like the former archbishop of Sydney, who was content to wear collar and tie in his leading of worship - or the Bishop of Nelson, to wear jeans and open-necked shirt when he was celebrating the Eucharist.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I am happy to wear my clerical robes at an installation as a sign of respect and support for a fellow member of the clergy as an important moment in their service of God takes place. (I am also happy not to so dress, as other members of the clergy did that not).

I am comfortable robing to preside at communion in formal services and according to parish custom, and conversely when parish custom does not so require (e.g. When I was a vicar in Blenheim some years ago). I do not object to clergy robing per se, nor to the presiding priest wearing as many (or as few) robes as they see fit to enable their presiding to give glory to God.

Our guide should be Jesus himself. Whether today he would wear a collar and tie, an open necked shirt, a T shirt, a clerical shirt, an alb, with or without chasuble, a cassock and surplice, with black scarf or coloured stole, I do not know. What I do know is that he gave no instructions which require any specific form of dress when ministering in his name!

However the discipline of our church requires the wearing of robes when presiding at communion at that is fine by me.

Peter Carrell said...

Whoops, the last sentence of the first para of the above comment should end with "night" not "not."