Monday, June 8, 2009

Seeing ourselves as others see us

A recent commenter to a post below makes a number of observations about the state of the church to which I belong, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. Some telling observations are made, but I think some of the assessments offered are too sweeping. Then there is also the question raised of whether I should cease to be critical of TEC and be more critical of my own church ... I shall think upon these things. But that thinking will include my ongoing concern about the healthiness for the future of Anglicanism of TEC being a major influence on the Anglican Communion, and about the ongoing influence of TEC in the life of this church in which it has many admirers!

Nevertheless our church is in a very puzzling state. Consider these observations:

- we have parish churches which are faithfully Anglican (follow the liturgy, run the parish in the way parishes have been run for a long time now) but in the doldrums (aging congregations and financial anxieties inhibiting creative missional advances)

- we have have parishes which are living in a form of unreality (there are so few active parishioners that a bold amalgamation with a neighbouring parish would be the certain recommendation of any review commission that was commanded to dismiss nostalgia from its considerations)

- we have growing, dynamic parishes defying the aging demographics but which are Anglican in the liturgical sense of the word at the 'early service' (average age of congregation 60+) but not at their main service of Sunday morning)

Let me put the next point as a question, for I am uncertain of the evidence:

- do we have any parishes which are (a) growing numerically, and/or (b) decreasing the average age of Sunday worshippers present at services by faithfully following one of the main eucharistic services in our prayer book (while offering creativity in music, preaching, children's talks etc in the course of this faithful following of the rubrics and content of the liturgy)?

With advance apologies to overseas readers who will struggle to answer this last question! Is there a positive answer to this last question? How many such parishes?


Rosemary Behan said...

I'm just wondering if the criteria, which it seems has been set by your anonymous contributor .. that of eucharistic/liturgical services, is the correct question.

I have visited Anglican churches, and hear about Anglican churches in the US and Canada, which are extremely liturgical, and which are growing .. and admit that I haven't seen such here. That doesn't mean they're not around. I'm just wondering whether the liturgical element is the criteria that matters. Could it be that it's the 'faith' of the pastor and church in question, and the liturgical element is irrelevant [more or less] to those who attend?

When you look at the growth of Tim Kellar's Redeemer in New York, [to take the matter out of Anglican churches for the moment] .. do you put that growth down to the faith and integrity of the pastor and his 'core' parishioners .. or to the fact that he maintains Presbyterian, not to say Calvinistic characteristics?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
You make an excellent point!
Yes, in my understanding of Anglican churches in North America there are growing liturgical churches; whereas they are hard to find on the ground here in NZ.

So, yes, on the one hand, the 'faith' of the pastor and the church are very relevant to growth. On the other hand, I wonder if there are 'cultural' factors which enable liturgical churches to grow in N. America and not here (e.g. the greater cultural acceptance of regular church going there)?

Yet, and this is kind of to contradict myself (!), it is a puzzle to me why I can readily find growing Catholic churches in NZ which are typically faithful Catholic churches in their use of the liturgy (but often creative around music, and will have excellent priests), and few such Anglican churches. One possible explanation is that around 15-20 years ago some of our Anglican parishes evaluated the liturgy as not the vehicle for growth and headed in a different 'informal' direction but, actually, if they had stuck with the liturgy growth would have still happened (providing the 'faith' you mention remained present).

Janice said...

Our congregation is quite small; roughly 40 adults. Before my time it used to be much larger. The diocesan website has an old picture which shows that our church used to have an actual band with maybe 5 or 6 people in it. But then came a priest whom I have heard referred to as "XXX the wrecker". It's been at least 10 years since he left but the place hasn't yet recovered. Given that this diocese is considered 'high church' I presume that even in his time it was much more liturgical than any church I attended down south.

Down south we used to attend one of those less formal morning services at a church that also ran an 8am prayer book service for the 'old dears'. We got a new rector who taught me that one ought not to expect that ordained people are any better followers of the Lord than anyone else. When we arrived up here even a parish church prayer book service reminded me too much of that man. We retreated to the cathedral and the 'smells and bells'. That was a most beneficial lesson! Extremely high church Anglicans also love the Lord, and they certainly display more reverence towards him than I ever saw demonstrated at the cool, family-friendly, non-liturgical morning services we attended down south.

We left Anglicanism for a time, because of Peter Carnley, but came back to it, after he retired, because of the prayer book. Too often people involved in extemporaneous prayer remember to pray for the sick and the needs of their own church but forget to pray for the government and the wider church. Now I'm only bothered because, even with the prayer book, most prayers forget to offer thanks. But I wouldn't go back to the cathedral because it has a new dean who seems to be wanting to get rid of the creeds and open up communion to anyone at all, baptised or not.

Having written all this I think I've convinced myself that the problem with parishes that aren't growing lies in those who lead them. What a non-surprise! On the other hand some churches that are growing aren't necessarily growing in the Lord.

When he was at university my middle son used to attend one of those big charismatic places that had a rock band and a 'youthful, vibrant' leader. On one of our visits we went with him to this church and I noticed that the collection plate was a plastic bucket with a bottom that had holes in it such that coins would fall through. They were obviously not interested in advancing the kingdom with the "widow's mite". He's given up on that church. He's also given up on his local Anglicans because of their legalism. So we're back to the leadership problem. Too bad. These problems always go all the way to the top.

Michael Reddell said...

In a US context, we attended two such churches in our time living in Washington, one evangelical and one more liberal.

Here in NZ our parish (All Saints Hataitai) has a modestly growing early service, which faithfully follows the NZPB liturgies. The average age has also dropped over recent years. Both phenomena, of course, are partly attributable to our family of five's decision to attend this service.

We are relatively new to Anglicanism. Your question evinces a lack of confidence in one of the traditional strengths of Anglicanism. So many Anglicans really seem to want to be Baptists - perhaps Baptists, by chance, better conform to the spirit of the age. Which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Michael
That is encouraging news from All Saints!

liturgy said...

Thanks for this helpful thread, Peter.
I want to develop ideas from your points, and begin to do that here: