By Rev Ali
When I was in theological college learning how to be a vicar one of our tutors was very excited about a new book by the author Tom Sine called ‘The New Conspirators’. Its description is as follows, ‘God is conspiring through a new generation to re-imagine and create new expressions of discipleship, community and mission and to make a difference in our rapidly changing world’. In 2008 at STETS in Salisbury we were being trained to be minsters enabled to engage with this ‘changing world’ and to be part of the new mission shaped church of the 21st century.
It is my opinion that over the last 12 years since this book was published what has actually happened is not so much a re-imagining as the rolling out of a one size fits all evangelical model for growth that has led to fairly unimaginative church refurbishments, the introduction of technology to entertain, 80’s pop music rhythms and neatly packaged culturally safe consumption in worship. There are interesting things happening outside mainstream churches but on the whole the movement has been towards, ‘cappuccino, comfy chairs and a worship experience that gives a fuzzy glow’.
Within the Anglican churches of the mainstream nothing much has changed at all as we are terrified of throwing the ‘baby out with the bathwater’ and have no real consensus about which is which!
This compulsory church closure due to the pandemic could be a blessing for religious establishment in many ways if we allow it to be a time of re-imagining. It allows us to ask the questions; What do I miss? What is essential to me about my Religious life? What/who do I need to support and grow my faith? What significance do the church buildings have to me? What do I like about Sunday worship? What groups do I miss? What service do I long to give? Who/what is sitting heavy on my heart and in my prayers? How do I find peace? Where is God, and how best can I be in communion with God?
These are personal questions that you may never have asked before or they may be the constant soundtrack of your life. They are worth answering now in this time of reflection and be aware that the answers will be ones that are contextual. They may be steeped in longing for friends that you no longer see, busyness that you are missing and the rhythms of life that have disintegrated, but they are precious answers because they are outside the norm and will be a re-imagining.
In looking myself at these questions I have returned to some of my previous reading matter and so I offer you these insights from Toms book.
In a nutshell he is talking about church decline in numbers of a scale that has already become unmanageable and the established Churchs can barely any longer afford to partake in ‘business as usual’, as we know from our own discussions in PCCs. I would add my own reflection on this time that in closing the churches, prohibiting pastoral activities and sending ministers inside, the Church of England has proved to the world that we really are just another ‘club among clubs’, an optional extra… non-essential. As secular charities are funded and supported as they help in the communal effort to alleviate suffering in this time of crisis, the churches continue their marginal spiritual activities on line for the benefit of the 6% of the country that may want to indulge.
It is my contention also that ‘business as usual’ would be a big mistake as we emerge from this crisis and we need to be asking …. How have we come to a point where, care of the spiritual life, the teachings of Jesus and the Christian hope for a new creation have become non-essential? AND…. How can we be fully part of the new society that will emerge, as yeast in the dough?
To use Toms words…. ‘We will all need to more authentically reflect Gods new order in which we make our lives and resources more available to the growth of Gods quiet conspiracy of compassion in a world of mounting need’.
What will this look like in out rural parishes here in the Haven Benefice? I can see how his narrative is looking to younger congregations than we may have but I would hate to see us become homogeneous in any age grouping or social demographic. Ours must be a conspiracy for us all! You can be sure that it will be like no other place and it will be rooted in our soil, our culture and our communities.
Lets re-imagine together!