We held our Diocesan Synod over the last days of the past week - my first as President of the Synod. It was a full Synod - we finished a few minutes before the designated finishing time of 5 pm on Saturday. It was a helpful Synod - to me at least - because it helped chart some directions over the next twelve months in respect of strategy and planning for action towards my stated big theme for the Diocese: Regeneration through Christ.
In due course and through our official Diocesan media we will report on the Synod. Here I want to reflect generally on an aspect of church life, perhaps more peculiar to Anglican churches than other churches in Aotearoa New Zealand, which various discussions in the Synod touched on. This is the question of funding mission (say, new outreaches into society) and church development (say, building a larger church for a growing congregation to gather in) when the funds do not appear to be available, yet the overall assets of the church (in this case, a Diocese or region) are considerable.
Other ways of putting this include:
- We are asset rich and cash poor.
- We have churches in the wrong places in respect of how housing has developed in the past 50 years; what if we sold all our churches and started again?
- Why own church buildings at all when they consume so many dollars maintaining and repairing them and take up so much administrative time and energy?
But putting things like that raises the inevitable questions of what can and cannot be done.
- can a Diocese make a plan, sell buildings over here and build new buildings over there? (Answer, in Anglican polity: mostly a resounding, No!)
- what difference does the heritage status of a building make to what might happen to it? (With related question of cemeteries on church land ...)
- would we settle for always using rented properties rather than properties we own?
On the one hand, it is pretty simple to put up so many questions and raise various issues so that we do nothing to change the status quo.
On the other hand, there is a will to find a way forward and an urgency pressing upon us to change the status quo.
As we sometimes observe to ourselves hereabouts, there is no point in being the last Anglican in the Diocese of Christchurch wondering what to do with several hundred million dollars of real estate.
Our Synod raised questions. This time we didn't settle on answers. A year from now we will come back to these matters. We will have done more work by then. My blog a year from now may or may not have some definitive decisions to report!
On the other hand
Mr President, distinguished guests, dear readers of the blog: I am reliably informed that it is my curious honour and distinct privilege to be the only person in the Communion who truly enjoys discussions of this ubiquitous topic.
Considering that, it seems best, not to propose a Grand Strategy or Plan of Action to rectify the redistribution of population on your otherwise blessed isles, but rather to explain how you can remain as light-hearted as I myself have been in past meetings about the future of redundant church-buildings.
Wormwood's Uncle Screwtape attends all such meetings with faithless regularity. Beware of him. As the chief tempter assigned to the Anglican Communion *, he has many centuries more experience with church meetings about church closings than you have. Good intentions alone will not stop Screwtape from at least trying a few tricks that he has been practicing in the CoE and further abroad since long before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
For instance, be very wary when he coaxes your parish councils to vow to do everything in their power to save your church-buildings. The devilry in this is that once councils are wholly absorbed in keeping the rain off the pews their power to do anything else will wither. As the bible-readers and sherry-sippers give up their council seats to plumbers and roof-fixers, the congregations lose their vigour, their income falls, and volunteer maintenance becomes a joyless necessity. I have seen a few parishes that stayed erratically open because they were too exhausted even for the formalities of closing. Which is what Screwtape wants, of course.
As you know, he has a notorious relish for souls seasoned with Envy and sauced with Wrath. So once parishes are morbid, he then induces their parishioners to not only envy those in the surviving ones but also-- this is brilliant-- to blame their own situation on... the bishop! For to the infernal palate, these souls are all the more succulent if they stew in the belief-- possibly not wholly false-- that their parish is the dying one just because it has never been as well-connected to the diocese and its influential donors as some rival nearby.
Screwtape will caramelise the last sweetness in even this delicacy by whispering that, since the diocese will get all the money when the parish dissolves and the building is sold, the bishop has every incentive to want them to give up and board over their windows. "Just you wait and see what he says when he visits!" In due course, he does, and like any other orthodox Christian, he points out that the church is the people, not the building, and warns his people against sacrificing too much to keep a pile of bricks open. "What did I tell you?," sneers Screwtape, as he snacks on a few dispirited parishioners (including the plumber and the roofer).
Glutton that he is, Screwtape sometimes fancies an angry bishop as well. This appetite is easiest to satisfy when the neighbourhood around a dying parish in changing its race or ethnicity. Screwtape first whispers in the bishop's ear that the parishioners always whimpering about the wholly holey holy roof they cannot afford to fix are also inhospitable to the newcomers who should be joining them and paying for it. (Ironically, these new folk may indeed fix that roof when the building belongs to a church of their own, but since birds of a feather flock together, they are unlikely to want the Anglicans that come along with it.) Then the tempter whispers to the parishioners that their bishop secretly thinks that they are racists and chauvinists. So when their chief pastor next visits and challenges his people to open their hearts and their doors to those in the streets around them-- who would not say this?-- the social temperature drops 20 degrees. Which confirms to each side that its dark suspicion about the other was actually correct-- and Screwtape begins to gnaw contentedly on both.
He speaks in whispers so soft that his thoughts are in your mind without your knowing how they got there. He uses them, both in official meetings and in carpark chatter afterward, to cast a spiritual gloom that makes hard expectations and dark suspicions-- and unwise decisions-- seem reasonable. He especially whispers that the Body is dying, at least in those parts, and with it faith, hope, and love.
Yet the daylight truth is what + Peter says it is: you presently need or someday will need more space than you have today, but probably not in the present locations. Some decline can only be overcome with prayer-- the participation of the populace has risen and dipped for centuries-- but in many places it results from the further coincidence of a birthrate that is historically low, members who are not converting their children, and migration to new places without churches. All four factors can change, but even when the next revival of faith ripples across the land, some of today's spaces will still be in the wrong places.
Although it is rumoured to help, one does not have to be an African to be a good exorcist. If need be, + Peter can send Screwtape fleeing into the dark. But since devils cannot bear to be mocked, Screwtape will leave or at least shut up if even a child ridicules him. Spiritually, it is usually much better for all to know how to harry and hurry their own demons than to wait with them for a professional.
For the kingdom is incomparably greater than any situation we face. The best defense is the good offense of pastors helping their people to live with gratitude for the time that God has given them, praising him for the past glories, walking wisely in the present responsibilities, and praying with a heart open to the future.
* There is some debate about when Screwtape was assigned to the Ecclesia Anglicana. Reginald Pole thought that Screwtape had been trained and commissioned in some German land but came to England in the baggage of Thomas Cranmer's secret wife Margarete sometime after his return from Regensburg to London in October 1532. But Matthew Parker, dismissing this as papal propaganda, commandeered all the oldest ecclesiastical books in the realm to find the truth, and is said to have recorded, in notes last seen by Randall Davidson in the library at Lambeth Palace, that Screwtape was demonstrably an ancient Briton sent to stir trouble between the Celtic Church and the new Roman mission at Canterbury.
Assuming, dear BW, that Screwtape is an essentially Anglican identity, it's funny how our Roman Catholic confreres have very similar problems and decisions to be made post-quake as us Anglicans in Christchurch. Do you think that Screwtape is an infernal inter-Faith character, specialising in disruption of whatever spiritual entity s/he seeks to lampoon (disrupt)? Methinks Screwtape is having a ball in this neck of the woods, doing what s/he can do to cause chaos and instability.
Dear Bowman, Ron and Screwtape et al (if reading),
Indeed, the devil lies in the detail of what lies before the vestry and the Synod.
Parish A: stuck on what to do about an intractable building challenge, which even if solved by the pouring of cash to shore up its foundations and glue up its walls, leaves the parish with a building in the wrong, no longer strategic location.
Parish B: growing like a mushroom, definitely needs its building where it is, but desperately needs it to morph overnight into something roomier.
Synod member X: surely the bishop just needs to get Parish A to sell up, join with Parish B and use the newly available funds to make that overnight transformation.
Bishop: O to be an Anglican Autocrat with both Solomon’s Wisdom and Solomon’s Treasury!
Anglican Looking At Roman Catholic Diocese and Bishop: See what a Bishop who is a Sole Corporation = Autocrat (in perception) can do.
Roman Catholic Bishop: If only!!!
Father Ron, you are surprisingly perceptive to recognise the same tradecraft when it is used in different settings. Did your training as an intelligence analyst come from the Franciscans...?
When Screwtape was assigned to England long ago, he had been taught to curdle milk, frighten farm animals, conjure illusions, etc according to the standard curriculum. But to the deep disappointment of the senior devils, he was never more than an adequate trickster. His prospects for descent through the elite ranks being not at all clear, they sent him to England mainly to get rid of him. There he could surely do no good, and if he somehow did real evil, his future in the Infernal Service might be salvaged.
It was whilst pitting the Celts against the Romans in England, that Screwtape compensated for his career-threatening weakness with a technique that everyone now uses-- embitter difference into conflict by reframing the import of what each side is actually saying to the other. Seed the right doubts at the right times and people will see what you want them to see in reality itself.
Mastery of this new technique turned his posting on the edge of the world-- all the more demotable tricksters were in the East plotting the rise of Islam-- into an accomplished career disrupting the third largest body of Christians in the world. In that career, Screwtape has had some obvious successes-- he must have loved getting Reginald Pole to float his cover, and recently he has trained many *useful idiots* to be polarising happy warriors-- but even his failures have been near misses.
That he did not prevent the Lambeth Conferences is the single greatest debacle of his long career. But in turning York against the first one, rousing American suspicions against the second, and persuading Davidson not to convene a third, he came much closer to stopping them altogether than many realise. To his lasting discredit, he has never given up on that objective.
Screwtape's distinguished career has naturally brought recognition and influence. Aspiring deceivers analyse case studies of his work at the Institute, and his occasional lectures there attract overflow crowds. From these, knowledge of his methods has been widely disseminated, and as you note, applied.
Peter, the bishops of London and their commissaries organised the CoE in the American colonies in a third way. Instructively, their mindset was less that of entrepreneurs seeking growth than of highway builders establishing equity.
Each region (the word "parish" was used, but for English counties, not compact settlements) had a large central "church" and several smaller *private chapels* (schools and plantations) and *chapels of ease* (donated land). Many communicants therefore *belonged* to one parish but to two worshipping bodies-- one central, one nearer. In principle, the parish church accommodated a large *catchment*, was built for the ages, and was maintained by all. The chapels were more provisional, were more occasionally used, and were maintained (or not) by those who lived near them. There is an obvious analogy to public highways and private lanes.
The virtue of this arrangement-- to some the vice-- is that it prioritises meat over dessert, buildings offering basic access for all in a region ahead of those that embody local attachments.
Incidentally, this arrangement is also common in Orthodox lands.
"It was a helpful Synod - to me at least - because it helped chart some directions over the next twelve months in respect of strategy and planning for action towards my stated big theme for the Diocese: Regeneration through Christ."
Before this slips off of our screens, Peter, this was heartening, even a little exciting, to read. Your work and collaborators remain in my prayers. No need to reply.
Post a Comment