- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The Church of England is a “generation away from extinction”, a former Archbishop of Canterbury has warned, as the CofE’s General Synod began meeting to discuss an ambitious campaign of re-evangelisation and the ordination of women as bishops.
Lord Carey told the Shropshire Light Conference at Holy Trinity Church in Shrewsbury at the weekend that the Church of England, when it failed to engage young people, “ought to be ashamed of ourselves”.
“So many churches have no ministry to young people and that means they have no interest in the future. As I have repeated many times in the past we are one generation away from extinction. We have to give cogent reasons to young people why the Christian faith is relevant to them,” he said.
Yesterday General Synod, which is meeting this week in London, backed a motion for the Church to make evangelisation its highest priority and voted to create a national Task Group on Evangelism.
The report, Intentional Evangelism, which was presented to Synod, warned of a “progressive squeeze” on the Church’s ability to sustain a nationwide presence.
“Put simply, fewer clergy are now ministering to a larger population and having to oversee a roughly similar number of buildings with fewer worshippers to pay for them. Further significant decline would make it impossible to maintain the Church of England as a national institution, which is present in every community,” it said, quoting the Synod document Making New Disciples, which was presented in December 2012.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, moved the motion, warning that “compared with evangelism everything else is like re-arranging furniture when the house is on fire.”
Making New Disciples, from which the call to “re-evangelise” arose, warned of an accelerated decline in congregation numbers and a rise in the average age of churchgoers.
Another 2012 study from Cranmer Hall in Durham suggested that while Anglican churches had suffered in the last30 years, at least 5, 000 new churches had been planted in the same period, many within black-majority and Evangelical/charismatic denominations.
Today Synod will discuss the importance of church-run schools. Writing in The Daily Telegraph today the Bishop of Oxford, who is Chair of the Church of England’s Board of Education, and is due to address Synod this afternoon, defended church schools’ inclusivity and said that they are effective precisely because of their Christian ethos.
“Rather than seeing [church schools] through the distorted lens of those who campaign against church schools, would it not be better to understand why they are so popular and see that the Church of England can offer solutions to some of the challenges facing education in this country, such as the shortage of primary school places?”
The Synod is due to turn to its most contentious issue – the ordination of women as bishops – tomorrow.
While Synod failed to pass legislation last year, the Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith, which is seeking suitable provision for parishes that would not accept the authority of a female bishop, has welcomed the new draft legislation as a "very significant improvement".
The proposed motion would put in place an accelerated programme for introducing women bishops and would appoint an independent arbitrator to resolve disputes if traditionalists appeal against the appointment of a woman to a diocese.