Establishing the consequences

IMG_3388Following 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.


7 responses to “Establishing the consequences

  1. I think that you’ve captured the essential elements of how disestablishment would have wider consequences than just severing the link with the establishment. For me, just losing the comfort that comes from the knowledge that the church is there for me, whether I actually avail myself of it’s services would be like losing an invisible aunt – someone you know exists, but have never met, but while they’re around you have a live connection with previous generations. It would be like when both of your parents have died – you are orphaned and on your own.

    When I think back to my childhood being raised as RC, the only church that I knew at that time was Catholic. All other churches were disregarded as being ‘non-catholic’ and therefore of no consequence. I didn’t even think of the CofE as a Church, just a bunch of protestants who’d got it wrong when Henry decided to divorce his wife and the Pope wouldn’t bow to his will.

    I can remember after joining the Army feeling discriminated against on Church parades as Catholics were described as ‘left footers’ an allusion connected to a distinction made in british life between the ‘one true protestant church’ and catholics. Methodists and Baptists etc were not discriminated against in this way – so I suspect that I also held a grudge against Anglicans while I remained a Catholic until I abandoned God altogether when the Catholic Church washed its hands of me as I went through a divorce.

    I never really got to know Anglicans in any real way until after I left the Catholic Church and met Anglican Chaplains, who horror of horrors were human and actually did God in a way that I could relate to – but didn’t want to admit. Once God came back into my life he was the Anglican one, who was human, approachable, who listened and helped and didn’t turn you away – and this was represented most ably by the Anglican padre who listened to my thoughts and didn’t disparage me, but welcomed me with an open heart and mind and disregarded my foolish prejudices and taught me the difference that we shared the same God, we just approached him slightly differently.

    Now, I’m completely hooked both by God and by the Anglican Way. As part of the Church of God for ALL of his people, which the CofE represents most ably in it’s current form. Anything else would be less, wouldn’t be fit for purpose and would not be the church I feel that God called me to be part of and to serve.

  2. I don’t think the connections will disappear. Coming from the non-established end of the church, the connections are still there. You might have to work harder at making them, but you are that kind of person. As a Minister involved and visible in the community relationships are built naturally.
    I’ve never felt the need to decide who is in or out, if they live and breathe (and actually those that no longer do!) I minister to them. My duty always has been to God and those he calls me to. Maybe that’s a Methodist way of looking at things, I don’t know?
    I’ve never felt I’ve not been invited to events or into communities or to get involved in anything because I’m not part of the Church of England… It’s all about being amongst people and building relationships where you are and where they are, being willing to be part of what is going on – and you don’t have to be established to do that.

  3. Thanks for taking the trouble to think this through, Claire. I had wondered about offering the subject up for discussion in the Renewing the Rural Church FB group, but chickened out simply because I’m not well enough to be able to focus on that and help the discussions along 😦
    If someone else wants to, feel free!
    I suspect there are many nuances to this area. But I have sympathy with Claire’s suspicions that disestablishment may provide a major temptation to some (many?) Anglican clergy to resort to a chaplaincy-type ministry rather than universal/representational-type ministry. In some circumstances, and with some types of clergy this is already happening – e.g. where multi-parish ministry is (a) overwhelming, (b) under-resourced, and (b) clergy focused.
    Neverthless, as Pam rightly points out, currently non-established churches are not tied into a chaplaincy-type structure. And from all I know of rural clergy like Claire, there are plenty of Anglican clergy whose ministry would not be curtailed by disestablishment.
    A great deal, I suspect, lies with the ecclesiology that underpins the local church & leadership.

  4. Pam, Simon and Ernie, thank you so much for your comments – you know I come at this from a very CofE position, so I am glad to have you to add balance. I think I am less worried on a personal level than on a “what church is for” level – but I don’t have the spare brain to blog that 🙂

    • Thank you. Thinking about that. My experience of churches (small c) within Wales is limited, and is actually mainly of chapel, so can’t work out whether that I’ve just not looked hard enough while I’ve been on holiday (which is likely – can’t get a proper feel for a whole country from a couple of weeks a year). Also don’t know enough about the Ecclesiology of the Church in Wales to understand whether my dreaded “chaplain” consequence is an issue or not. Food for thought.

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