No one is buying what the Anglicans are selling

Vestments

Perhaps one of the advantages of being cultural outsiders here in the UK is that we may have a little more objectivity than those immersed in their own culture. I know this happens in the States when those from outside American culture see what we don’t see because we are captives of our own surroundings.

The past couple of months, I have been overwhelmed, and sobered, by the presence and the state of the Anglican Church in Great Britain. There is virtually no place one can stand and not be in visual sight of an Anglican church building. The legacy of this institutional bastion of Christendom is astounding.

What is sobering, however, is how completely out of touch and irrelevant the overwhelming majority of the Anglican Communion seems to be to present day Britain. With less than 1-2% of the population ever attending a service in one of these historic relics called churches, you’d think the Anglican leadership would realize that what they are selling, no one is buying. If the Church of England was a business, the whole outfit would have been in bankruptcy a long time ago. (And from what I have begun to discover, it’s probably headed that way regardless. Apparently the only thing that keeps the institution afloat is selling off their properties and “redundant” churches).

It appears that the Church of England and its leaders are simply in a different universe than the culture around them. The communicative disconnect is jarring in a country where more than 1/3 of the people are admitted atheists or agnostics and more people in the UK attend mosques on Sunday than darken the door of an Anglican church.

On one hand, there is so much to admire about the Anglican heritage. The depth of the theological and liturgical tradition, and a remarkable legacy are attractive to anyone desiring a sense of rootedness and historicity. As with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, there will always be people drawn to the richness of a tradition that has evolved through the ages. Yet Anglicans hold fast to an attractionistic model of ministry that expects the secularized and increasingly postmodern populace to come to them, which simply will not happen.

What is also heartbreaking is to see the wasted resources. It’s staggering. If even a slight percentage of the buildings, parsonages, and properties that are owned by the Church of England were made available to people with spiritual passion and biblical vision—particularly in the emerging generation—the impact on this society could be profound.

An article in the magazine of the National Trust describes the future of the largest landholder in England. It laments that “…congregations and parish incomes are in a free fall” and over the next decade, “…the trickle of churches becoming redundant is predicted to become a torrent.”

It appears that theological and missiological realities have not been adequate motivational forces to generate the necessary renewal within the Church of England that could stem its slide into oblivion. Perhaps the immense practical pressure that money and property problems exert will force the desperately needed institutional change.

Regardless, God is not limited by such human institutions and will eventually bypass such forms to create new, vibrant expressions of his Kingdom presence. Such processes have happened over and over again throughout history and it’s no different today in contemporary Britain.

3 Responses to “No one is buying what the Anglicans are selling”

  1. Zack Newsome Says:

    Sam,

    I have come to really appreciate your perspective as an American outsider in Europe. Keep the insight and observations coming.

    As for the Anglican church, I have some friends who come from that tradition and through them I have become aware of an initiative of the Anglican Church (in partnership with the Methodist Church) called “Fresh Expressions”.. While the Anglican church indeed hasn’t seemed to keep with the change of English and European culture, Fresh Expressions seems to be a effort in which the church is giving freedom to those who are feel called to re-imagine the Anglican tradition. From my perspective it’s a quite risky endeavor and one in which should be applauded.

    Here are some links to check out about Fresh Expressions:
    http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk
    http://www.moot.uk.net
    http://www.emergingchurch.info/research/ianmobsby/index.htm

    There’s many more, but here’s just a few.

  2. Sam Says:

    Zack:

    Thanks for the referrals to Fresh Expressions.

    I’m familiar with this initiative and from what I’ve seen, it’s one of the hopeful signs of new life in the British Anglican world. It’s one of those wonderful islands of spiritual and missional vitality. And you are right. Fresh Expressions deserves every bit of support and encouragement possible.

  3. Fr. John Says:

    You should, perhaps,look at the reasons why the CofE is in the mess they are in. First off, they are still working with a heretical construct, which we Orthodox Call the Filioque. By substituting Man for God at the apex of the Holy Trinity, all sorts of heresies eventually will arise.

    Therefore, perhaps some Traditionalist Anglican could find, in their faith, a means to recapture the more Orthodox construct of the Trinity, to forge a new, healthier trinitarianism for a revivified Anglicanism. And you ahve one in the UK, and are probably not even aware of it- http://www.holycatholicchurch-wr.org/

    Bishop Wright’s comments on the fallacy of the filioque are, IMHO, nothing short of miraculous- especially for a non-Orthodox Westerner to iterate.
    http://www.holycatholicchurch-wr.org/page21.html

    Sincerely.

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