Thursday, 18 August 2011
Church in crisis (again)
"The Church of England could be virtually extinct in 20 years as elderly members die, an Anglican leader has warned. The average age of worshippers has risen to 61 as the Church has failed to attract younger followers, its National Assembly was told. Church leaders now face a 'time bomb' as numbers 'fall through the floor' over the next decade.
Bleak projections for the future came during exchanges at the General Synod in York yesterday. The Rev Dr Patrick Richmond, from Norwich, told members of the Church’s national assembly that they were facing a 'perfect storm' of ageing congregations and falling clergy numbers. He said: 'The perfect storm we can see forming on the far horizon is the ageing congregations we have heard about - average age is 61 now, with many congregations above that.' Rev Dr Richmond said: 'These congregations will be led by fewer and fewer stipendiary clergy ... 2020 apparently is when our congregations start falling through the floor because of just natural wastage, that is people dying.
'Another 10 years on, some extrapolations put the Church of England as no longer functionally extant at all.'
Andreas Whittam Smith, the first Church Estates Commissioner, said the demographic 'time bomb of 2020' for Anglicans was a 'crisis'. 'One problem may be that decline is so slow and imperceptible that we don’t really see it coming clearly enough,' he said. 'We know about it in theory but we don’t really know about it in practice. I wish that all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this.'
The stark warnings came after an internal report called for a national recruitment drive to attract new members."
I have talked, written and preached warnings with regards to the above and the future of a church in an effort to wake up my parish to the coming crisis that I am on the point of giving up altogether. All but a few seem interested in what I have to say and I suspect that even as the church actually reaches the tipping point where it keels over altogether these same people will cry out in utter surprise as if no one had said anything to warn them of the possibility. I very much sympathize with Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher who tells a parable about a clown who tries to warn the audience that the theatre is burning down. It comes from the first volume of his pseudonymously written Either/Or. In response to the question, “What happens to those who try to warn the present age?” Kierkegaard offers the following:
“It happened that a fire broke out backstage at a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.” - Either/Or, vol. I, p. 30
The theatre, which is the Church of England/Wales, is burning down around our ears and no one can smell the smoke or see the flames. The only thing they seem to hear is the voice of the clown at the front. But are they really listening?