Established Church?

IMG_3317The parish church here dates to the 13th Century, and wasn’t the first building on the site (yes Norman wuz ‘ere). So, yeah, we’re pretty established, thanks for asking.

I notice midst the fuss about whether the Church should be severed from the State, and whether we are Post Christian, Christian, Secular, Pluralist, or even merely human, no-one seems to be taking much notice of what is happening on the ground. Except perhaps those of us who spend our lives on the parochial ground, trying to love God and love our neighbour in a not-at-all-post Christian way. Since I arrived here, I’ve become very aware of some disconnects. But not, as you might think, the disconnect between God and people. Not even the disconnect between church and people (although let’s not underestimate that gap). No, the gap I notice is between the ‘sophisticated’ city and suburban life portrayed in our favourite no-longer-necessarily broadsheets and media, and the lives I see people leading here.

Here, life is not dictated by music playing at 220bpm. Here, in a village where we live with wood fires, oil or electric heating, where we are no more than two streets from a field, there is a different way of life, where people know when the bluebells are out, which birds are nesting where, what is still flooded….we live with the sound of our heartbeats, and with the change of the weather and season and condition of the soil.  It’s a world in which we live close to creation, and there is less adherence to the aggressively secular stance that humans are in charge – here at least, it is obvious we merely do our best to shape that which is beyond us.

And that shapes spirituality too. Here is a world where being “The Rector” isn’t the important thing, but the fact that there is A Rector matters immensely. More accurately, the fact that there is someone whose business is with God, publicly, matters. Don’t get me wrong, here is a place where lots of people don’t know the Christian stories, who are not great ones for church. But they do value their parish church and graveyard – not just for ancestor worship, but for the more immediate things that the church offers them, unquestioningly, at their points of spiritual need. The church may offer a language which isn’t always intelligible, but we can change that. But establishment means parish, means that everyone, every single person, has a church which is theirs. And round here, that’s important. We welcome our parishioners to celebrate birth, love, lives well lived. We share grief as well as joy. We don’t ask to see membership certificates, we don’t demand presence every Sunday – although we encourage it. But if someone living in this parish needs church, needs a priest, needs help as they find their own access to God, we’re here. We share and support that process, as much or as little as needed. And long may that continue.

8 responses to “Established Church?

  1. Thanks Claire. You give a vivid reason for the parish church and for the way that it provides that continuity in our communities which is often being fast over taken by so called development, technology or changes to the way that we live and work.

    I know from my own experience in rural parishes, that exactly those things that you describe contribute to the rhythm of life there and now, in my urban village parish, much the same applies, albeit life is a little faster and maybe a bit more complicated. The benefits that we enjoy is a much more reliable, virtually 24 local transport. Shorter distances to hospitals, although the advent of large specialist units now means travelling further for treatment or to A&E, but we are better provided for than many of the rural communities which was were my ministry and vocation flourished.

    Perhaps you post should be sent to Church house where those who plan the many changes can actually get a feel for rural mission and ministry from someone living it out day by day.

  2. Genuine question, Claire, which you may not be able to answer.
    What will happen on the ground in the many communities like yours if the CofE *is* disestablished … especially in relation to the connections you identify which are so valuable & vital?

  3. The Church in Wales is disestablished but I suspect there is a rector of a 13th century rural church who could write something very similar to this. Ministry areas might change that over the next few years, but that’s an attempt to engage better with context than by ever larger groups…

  4. I can see where you are coming from, but similar to Simon Martin’s query above, it seems that the foundation of the parish was dependent of establishment but I can’t see how disestablishment would threaten the continuation of a ministry in the area. It just wouldn’t have a ‘seal of the crown’ anymore.

    As a nonconformist, I wholeheartedly agree with the CofE’s mission to have “a christian prescence in every community” yet that’s not quite how it plays out. From an outsider’s perspective it often reads like a statement from Starbucks saying “a coffee shop in every community”. Yes, it meets the criteria, but it has to be *this* specific form. Likewise, the “a church near you” website only shows churches from the one denomination, like “a restaurant near you” only ever showing where the nearest McDonald’s or Pret may be found.

    The downside of the establishment is the (often unintended) denigration of other churches. I say “often” as I still have ringing in my ears the words of one anglican vicar who referred to the local baptist church as “interlopers”. Though I would hope that such a view is in the minority But it does demonstrate that though different denominations may have their historic and even doctrinal differences, the article that makes the CofE stand out from the others isn’t any of the 39, but rather it is the definite article. And for all the good that the CofE has and continues to do, it is hard to see why the “The” is needed for the church to carry on serving the many communities that is does today.

    • @Sipech, I agree that the CofE can be arrogant in its appropriate of the word “church”. But I have seen too many churches which exist for their members – entirely independently of the community within which they meet – they could be in Southampton or Coventry and it wouldn’t make much difference. The CofE at its best is the antithesis of “parachuted” church.

  5. Pingback: Establishing the consequences | Rev'd Claire·

  6. Like I think you’re saying I think the establishment, or otherwise, of the CofE will make less difference in our rural communities than they do perhaps in other communities, where the ‘tradition’ of church still survives – partly through the will of those who live there, or have ‘chosen’ to move there. They chose this sense of connection, however they articulate and use it.

    The link to the seasons natural to rural communities, is one of the things that seems to be at the heart of something I’m just beginning to explore ‘Forest Church’ It is about church, in what they term the ‘Jesus tradition’ (to try and get away from some of the luggage of being a “Christian”), but outside, more closely linked to and valuing of creation, the ancient understandings of what is sacred, and encourages the use of nature as a source of divine inspiration (which I think is termed natural theology). It often draws on the Celtic Christian tradition, especially for it’s liturgy, from what people have told me. Some people seem to run it totally separate to any ‘formal’ church, others do it as an additional/occasional gathering of church. Whatever form it takes, it seems to appeal to people who would never/rarely enter a church building. I’ve found Bruce Stanley’s book on it fascinating (, which is why I’m exploring more, and writing a mission portfolio based on it. But a brief Twitter conversation with you yesterday, and this post here, made me think that perhaps it may be something of interest to you to.

    Perhaps we can talk more when I’ve seen more – visiting another one next week.

    • Actually no, I think being established matters a great deal to communities with deep roots! But the Forest church movement is very interesting, looking forward to talking about it with you 🙂

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