Do you think the CofE has a future?

(38 Posts)
carlajean Wed 24-Apr-13 19:47:45

We live in a rural parish, where all the churches' energy is spent keeping the building up, which is much too large for the congregation. I feel that the church is fatally handicapped in many rural parishes by this responsibility. a second issue is that the design of the church makes it difficult to adopt alternative forms of worship. lastly, the congregation are mostly old, and finding it progressively more difficult to do much.
I know this sounds like a litany of woe, and, from other posts, can see that there are vibrant churches out there, but, from the perspective of my parish, see little hope for the Church in it's present form.
Over the next decade or so, I think there will have to be some drastic decisions made and I think many churches will have to be closed, but can't see what the Church will do with them. unlike chapels, they can't be easily converted into housing.

carlajean Mon 06-May-13 13:27:54

again, thank you for responding, I've enjoyed reading all you responses. at the moment we're on holiday in the States,and aim to go to a different church every Sunday. Yesterday we started the ball rolling by going to Holy Trinity , Boston (next to where the recent bombings occurred). it's a beautiful, enormous, church, with about 300 communicants and a service almost identical to our one at home. it also has a deep commitment to social outreach. (however, it's also like home, in that nobody spoke to us at the post-service coffee!).
So it is possibly to have a strong, traditional, church.
But I am being unfair, comparing a small rural church to a large urban one, I suppose.
I'm really interested in other people's experiences of the CofE but, unfortunately, feel that my church has reached the point of no return, and that many other rural churches are in that position.

carlajean Mon 06-May-13 13:35:07

anthracite it's great to hear about your church. Can I ask where you are I.e. rural, suburban, or urban?
I agree about the issue of women bishops, but remember that the clergy also were in flavour..it was the laity who got it chucked out!

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Mon 06-May-13 13:38:45

I think one of the issues is that many rural areas in the UK are being de-populated, so there aren't many young people living there. Also, the church is no longer the centre of the community, so whereas many people who are culturally Christian, but not actually religious (in terms of believing in God or heaven) went to church anyway, now they don't.

When I went to church in Bermondsey (inner London) to hear our banns read, the place was packed and the priest gave a real "fire and brimstone" sermon that was somewhat at odds with what I was expecting. In my parents rural (ish) village, they might get 40 on a Sunday and the average age is 60.

I do wonder if the CofE is doing the wrong things by trying to make religion more "accessible" when actually, the opposite would be more effective- i.e. people want religion to be a certainty in uncertain times.

I think maybe the whole community should look after it's local church and it not be left to the CofE and the congrgation. We have so many beautiful old churches in this country, and my feeling is they belong to and are the responsibility of all of us. They were built by the whole community after all.

Also think church was showing encouraging liberal signs in about the 70's but has now generally become too traditional, conservative (no one wants to change anything !), fundamentalist, and evangelical. A shame to see how little room there is in modern church life for rational liberals.

I was brought up broadly CofE but am now a Quaker. Much more at home there now, but still fond of our old churches - fortunately there are some beautiful and very peaceful old Meeting Houses too.

Anthracite Mon 06-May-13 17:25:15

We are suburban - within the M25

Anthracite Mon 06-May-13 17:31:17

One of our church members is in the House of Laity of General Synod and he voted against the women bishops proposal. That is not because be doesn't approve of women bishops but because he didn't agree with the provisions of the resolution for those churches that have a problem with the notion of women bishops.

My church doesn't have a problem of women bishops having accepted women clergy, nor do we particularly elevate bishops.

Anthracite Mon 06-May-13 17:34:10

Richman, you are spot on with your thoughts.

The CofE churches that are growing are those that are far from wishy-washy.

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief I hope your daughter's baptism goes well. Don't worry too much about the women bishops thing, they will vote it in soon enough. I am very confident now it will all go ahead (No I don't know anything anyone else doesn't know - if that sentence even makes sense!!!) I mean I am pretty confident. The church needs women! I am pretty certain they know that!

I am no longer in the C of E because we started going to a small local free church, and I miss the C of E. I miss the ritual of communion, I miss the words we say for the service, I don't actually miss the boring hymns! But the people I meet in the free church are very like the people in the C of E! The C of E has high and low, catholic and evangelical. That's kind of what I love about the C of E, it tries to hold it altogether in tension!

The problem I think is, as others have said, rural churches! rural areas where Christians, and indeed any people, are few on the ground. In the cities churches are doing amazing work and maybe they have enough people to keep the roof on and do more work besides maintaining old buildings.

I kind of wonder if there is a way to turn our weaknesses into our strenths! But I need to think more on that one. Ours is a rural church and quite small.

madhairday Tue 07-May-13 18:35:13

Reading with interest. I'm working in Fresh Expressions at the moment as dh is a pioneer minister. We've been thinking a lot lately on the future of the c of e.

I don't think the cofe is doomed, but I do think things will change dramatically and ways of doing church will be reshaped. The present status quo cannot survive - vicars are taking on more and more churches, many with a few elderly people making up the congregation and trying to cope with crippling debts, leaking roofs and no new people. In contrast to this, there are thousands of thriving churches who reach out to their communities and are growing and growing. I think the model will change - it has to. Perhaps churches will become centralised, but I'd like to think, as a FX practitioner, that smaller churches will grow and be shaped by their own community - house churches, churches in local community spaces, churches in pubs, in cafes, anywhere really, and that these will be reflected by what the local community wants and needs. A church in inner city Birmingham will look different to one in leafy Kent, for eg - but principles remain the same.

I remain hopeful - there are statistics to show that contrary to popular opinion the church is growing (including the CofE) - things like FX aren't always counted because they are not a share paying congregation (always and often) so the bums on seats thing isn't taken into account - an FX gathering may be a group of 10 meeting in a pub, maybe 30 in a school hall, but it doesn't have to look like traditional, inherited CofE church. I think it's exciting and innovative to see what changes are afoot, and I don't believe the church will die - not if God has anything to do with it ;)

mummytime Tue 07-May-13 18:51:54

Actually part of the C of E which is growing, are the Cathedrals! Ours actually also hirers itself out for large functions - yes you can dine and dance in the Nave.
The most ancient Church in my town is also frequently used for arts events, including a children's drama group rehearsals.

However a rural Church with no community spirit (yes people do talk to you at coffee even at the Cathedral) and no willingness to use the Church for other things, will probably die out.

sarahtigh Tue 07-May-13 20:35:27

in the new testament the word church never referred to a building but the group of believers in a given location

the problem with many buildings is they are grade A listed so the interiors as well as exteriors, I think there is a balance by keeping some pews at front and stacking chairs at back, then space can be used more as village hall but with proviso's that nothing done that is anti- christian (as opposed to just not religious) or risks damaging fabric of building which sports might

it could be used for toddler groups coffee mornings for locals to socialise cheaply ie 50p drinks, charity events the local history group etc but if there is already a village hall this is not going to happen

Tuo Tue 07-May-13 21:06:27

I agree very strongly with ItalianGreyhound that one of the reasons why I love the CofE is the way that it tries to hold everything together, sometimes apparently against all odds. This can lead to what might look a bit like it washing its dirty laundry in public (e.g. in the debates around women bishops and same-sex marriages, etc.), but, in fact, I think that being able to have those debates, to acknowledge the different positions that exist within the Church, and to try to deal with and, where possible, to accommodate them, is better - if messier - than saying 'The answer is [XYZ]; live with it'. Doesn't mean that certain decisions and the slowness of (what I believe to be) necessary change don't frustrate me. But I am not the Church; the Church, as sarahtigh says is all of us... and that means also those who disagree with me. Just looking at threads on here is incredibly illustrative of the way in which we all (those of us who self-identify as Christians, I mean) approach our faith, and what it means to live with and in faith, in different - sometimes vastly different - ways. To try to hold all that together and to turn it towards God is incredibly hard - it would be much easier to say 'you're not with us' - but also, I think, incredibly valuable.

I occasionally attend a rural church round here, and it too seems to have a loyal (and reasonably large) congregation, small choir, bellringers, etc. I have been trying to think what differentiates this church from the one where I grew up, which is also rural but closer to the model that carlajean describes... basically withering. I'm not sure that I can put my finger on it, but part of it may be that there has been a lot of demographic movement in my childhood home - people have left, new people have come in, and maybe what's lacking - and what's reflected also in the church - is the sense of community. In the rural church I attend occasionally now there is, I think, a much more 'stable' community... and maybe that helps.

But then one has to ask what comes first...? Does the community create the church or can the church create the community? My experience has been the latter, in the sense that I have lived in the town where I live now for nearly 10 years, and always felt like an outside here... until I started going to church about 2.5 years ago. I realised with a jolt towards the end of last year that belonging to a church community (even though, like mummytime, it's a community attached to a cathedral, rather than a strictly 'local' one) has made me feel 'at home' in a town where I never thought I would...

Interesting!

madhairday Wed 08-May-13 11:17:48

That is really interesting TUO about whether community creates church or vice versa. I guess that a lot of pioneer stuff is about just that - the idea that church could be something shaped by the community rather than something creating the community. I think there is an element of both though having been here nearly 2 years now - you need something to kick start to create something, but then hopefully it will be shaped by the needs of those who are joining in.

Found this blog post this morning on church attendance and whether the c of e has a future - very topical! c of e attendance figures - good news or not?

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