Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Thank you, Fraser
According to an article in today's "Guardian" which has been widely blogged, the Church of England is doomed since in 20 years time the ageing congregations will have died off and there'll be two little old ladies, a decrepit priest and an altar boy left.
What a load of tosh. When I was growing up in a poorly-attended Brighton church in the late 1950's and early 60's the cry was exactly the same. There were perhaps 10 of us youngsters in the choir and maybe another 2 in the congregation. Normal Sunday attendance was about 15 people in a church seating 1,500.
All these years later that church is well-supported with a mix of ages, and apart from one person, none of those former young choristers attend that particular place of worship. So the congregation of the future cannot be said to be dependent on the young congregation of today. In fact over my 27 years of ministry in the Church of England I've seen more people return to the church after a pastoral contact than I have due to involvement as a child.
Adults return following the baptism of their children, marriage, or death of a loved one. They come seeking connection with the holy, the numinous, the cloud of unknowing. They might arrive with some childhood knowledge of what we do, but it's not the reason they return.
So in 20 years I expect the make-up of our churches to be fairly similar to what they are now, for the Holy Spirit will continue to work in the lives of people as they reach a point of need. And that point is when they need the church, not when the church needs them.