Following yesterday’s post about being established church, a few people have asked a very valid question…what difference will it really make if the Church of England were to be disestablished? I’m quoting just one (thanks, Simon, great question) who commented on the blog
“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?”
The quick answer is a cop out – I don’t know. And I guess in some places no-one will notice. There is a longer answer….but I have drafted this blog post three times now, and I still only have one answer which satisfies me – and it may well not satisfy others.
The connections matter because they form outside the church. If disestablished, the church is no longer there to serve everyone in the parish, it becomes a “members only” organisation. Suddenly I would have to judge who was in and who was out, who was part of “my” congregation that I am there to serve (be chaplain to?). And if my first duty is to my congregation, then everything I do is aimed at either nurturing those already there or increasing their number. There is nothing wrong at all with deepening spirituality and growing to maturity as a Christian, nor is there anything wrong with getting more people through the door, in fact I reckon both are good things. But if that is my duty, then who looks after everyone else? Who comes alongside those who aren’t ready for a deeper relationship with God, but need help spiritually, and need it now? How are people on the fringe meant to be treated as important human beings with spiritual needs if the church is busy looking after its own? I suppose I fear that the church would lose its ability to reach out everywhere – that I would be slated for spending time talking to people who never come to church when I ought to be concentrating on those within.
The established church stands in a position of privilege – I have been asked to all sorts of events, been invited to join all sorts of communities, which just wouldn’t be open to me unless I were a priest – at least not in such glorious variety. It is my job and vocation to “do” God, for, with, alongside and on behalf of the people whose cure of souls I share with the Bishop. Whenever they ask, and as best I can. Jesus Christ was to be found in the synagogues and the Temple – but also at the margins, with those who were outside the charmed circles. The margins of Christian faith are all around us – and because I am part of the Church of England, some of those margins actively invite me in. I don’t deserve it, I’m no better than any other minister, but I am offered opportunities which wouldn’t otherwise arise. And so I take them. It may be seen as arrogance – but Jesus accepted all sorts of invitations.
The connections would take time to sever, but I think they would be broken, certainly within a generation or two.