This article in the Guardian flags up the kind of response that occurs regularly in the CofE whenever any kinds of changes are proposed that would enable anyone not from a middle class background to access the church. On twitter there has been the usual Carey-esq knee jerk from people who fear the dilution of our faith, the end of the world as we know it when the use of ancient language or any other habit or practice changes. This language was chosen because it was intelligible at the time and not because it was in some way “sacred” – it can change when it is no longer useful or easily understood by those it was intended to teach, who have no mental framework within which to relate it. This is called inculturation.
It is a huge issue – perhaps the biggest issue in the Anglican church in this generation – as the CofE has built its internal culture on the fact that is has faithfully kept and handed on the tenets of faith by saying the same words since the 1600’s. This is of course not true at all! The words have changed many many many times, but the people who worship now, maybe fearing the assault of the world and the perceived threat to their ways that they are safe and familiar with, or maybe genuinely believing that these are magic words, the only ones allowed – feel the need to defend these old words and old ways. The legal enshrining of these in the Canons, lends weight to their case. It is a fear that if we change the words we are changing the actual content and doctrine of our beliefs, and that this cannot happen.
On the other side of the argument is the fact that we have lost our way as a radical transformer and influencer of society, a role which the new Archbishop is keen for us to get back. He spoke in his Christmas message of the church being the glue which holds local communities together. This is very welcome, and necessary, but I wonder if we are only as yet enacting one facet of that role in providing local practical services to those in need.
What we need to do is think through the ways in which our contacts with people on the outside of church may change us, if we allow ourselves to spend time and listen to them and then think about the ways in which we can share the message of the Christian faith, in what words we might use that would be understood readily, in what kinds of faith services they might respond to and relate to. This kind of thinking should change us, they should change our liturgies, to include options and words that still tell the message – the same message – just not in middle class or medieval words.
We have fallen into the trap of thinking that what we like and understand is the only way of expressing what is true, that the mental framework we have and fit our faith into, is the only one that is holy or allowed and that anything else must be suspect, or “dumbed down”. Are we so insecure?!! I think sadly we are.
This report below relates to a church I am hoping to visit in California in a few months time. http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_16996874
Read it, and try and imagine which “side” of this issue you would be on. The issues in this piece are being played out subtly all over the church at the present time, and relate to the use of resources, buildings, staff, money, worship, liturgy etc etc – they are the biggest issues of our time, in terms of our faithfulness to living out the gospel. Do we really believe this Gospel message and live our lives to participate in it along with Christ, or are we here for our own comfort and security, doing what we like best with the resources at our disposal? If there is no sacrifice, reconciliation, understanding, sharing, love – then it is not the gospel. It’s something else entirely.
I am not sure if Archbishop Justin is aware of the implications of what may ensue if we really try to be the glue in society in a way that will change and challenge us. Or perhaps he is, and is hoping that the right actions will lead us into a new way of thinking? I don’t think this will be a bloodless revolution but I hope hope hope we can change.