Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The old, the young and the status quo

In my appraisal of the recent Church in Wales review (see 27th September) I offered a few comments on the possibility of success based on my experience of 25 years of ministry across three dioceses in the Church in Wales which has seen me serve in a variety of places - working class, semi-rural, South Wales valley, middle class and lastly suburban. In the course of my blog I offered this opinion:

"I have concerns with regards to the following:  (1) The will of the vast majority of the Church population to undertake any change - let alone the ones suggested - without considerable resistance. I have discovered, with many, that if you have a predominantly older and more traditional congregation who, generally speaking, are set in their ways and pay/contribute to the vast majority of the Parish Share, any change is fiercely resisted causing whoever is overseeing them so much hassle - and fear - that the easiest option is to go along with the status quo."

This comment is based on my experience - and it is my experience - that generally speaking, with few exceptions, the vast majority of the older members of the congregations I have served have tended to be conservative, traditional and resistant to change and modernization. Coincidentally - and to their credit - the very same people have, due to their generosity and hard work, have kept most of the churches in the Province open until now. Through the various bazaars, coffee mornings, raffles, special events and concerts they have raised enormous amounts of money over the years. This much to their credit. But - and it is a sizeable 'but' - at the same time the church has declined and lost touch with each successive generation with the result that now 'young' means under sixty and children are an endangered species, at least within the confines of a church building. This is because the same people who have been labouring so hard to keep the churches open have, albeit it unwittingly, been the very same people who have been slowly closing them.  Why? Because the mindset of those raising of the money has been one of conservation not innovation, maintenance not mission, preservation not propagation.

So entrenched has been the attitude of those who have been keeping things going that any proposed change that does not conform to their idea of church - usually from 20-30 years ago - is resisted or opposed, and because they hold the power in terms of their money-raising gifts, clergy would rather "go along with the status quo" and pay the Parish Share than dig their heels in and do battle and lose their support.

It has to be said that this is not necessarily an age-specific thing as I have encountered many wonderful examples of open-minded and 'young at heart' older people. At the same time it is also possible to find close-minded and 'old at heart' young people. So this is not a rant aimed at any age group but a sharing of what I have experienced over 25 years of ministry striving to make the churches I have served open their eyes to what is happening around them and the growing gulf between fantasy and reality, the church as it is and the church as it needs to be.

With regards therefore to the Review then I don't think the dynamics of church life as outlined above have been taken into consideration when it comes to talk of such wide-ranging and radical changes. Hence my scepticism that such changes will truly bite and bring about the transformation anticipated.


Ann Owen said...

Interested to read this take, Mark, as here in North Wales, in a large parish with congregations of a similar demography to the one you describe, much positive change has taken place. The secret , if that is what it is, lies in really careful management. I would identify from our experience tact, gradualism, and patience as being essential factors, plus of course a well constructed vision in the first place. Are you being possibly a bit abrupt in your current situation?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ann
Thanks for your comment. You are right in what you say and probably the softly softly approach is, generally speaking, the best way. Perhaps my past experience has not been very fruitful in this respect - I was in a Parish prior to this for 13 years and felt that I could have done better. Besides talk of the imminent collapse of the Church in Wales fuelled by the Press, low clergy morale and a depressing lack of spiritual life across the congregations I have ministered to has bred in me a certain impatience. On top of it all I am probably in my last parish and so that adds to the sense of wanting to get something 'right' before I retire. I am still an idealist at heart and want to 'change the world', all very laudable but unrealistic I know.

But I appreciate what you say and thanks for taking the time to respond. Every blessing with your ministry.

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