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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.

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?

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...


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

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.

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 ;)

Italiangreyhound Tue 07-May-13 00:17:51

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.

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.

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 17:25:15

We are suburban - within the M25

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.

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.

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 was the laity who got it chucked out!

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.

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Mon 06-May-13 12:51:26

The CofE has big problems because they're just too wishy washy for many but not liberal enough for others so they're stranded between the Catholics and the evangelicals.

I'm still pissed off with them over women bishops. I'm getting DD baptised in the summer and I'm really really conflicted over it. If she was my first child I don't think I'd bother. I can only justify it by saying it's about my relationship with God, and just leave the church out of it - hey, on that basis, maybe I should convert to Islam.

Anthracite Mon 06-May-13 12:43:19

We reordered our church about 15 years ago.

It was a painful process as so many people were attached to the pews and other fixtures that perhaps their ancestors had contributed.

We have almost doubled our congregations since the reordering. We had to split our main congregation into two during the reordering in order to fit everyone in the church centre. One of the services became more traditional, and the other more modern, compared to the hybrid we had before. On moving back into church, both congregations had room to grow.

We both restored our church to its original Georgian architecture (bright and airy compared to gloomy Victorian), and totally modernised it too - carpets, underfloor heating, state of the art audio-visuals, and basics like disabled access and toilets.

Because we have chairs instead of pews, we can use the building far more - and do. We are happy to let the building out for concerts and we are not precious about any stuff (except the tech desk). We are happy have them move the communion table, for example.

We firmly believe that the church is the heart of the community and we have lots of mission projects that anyone can benefit from - free cafe, food bank, debt counselling, help accessing benefits, parenting courses, toddler group, holiday club, and more.

I don't think the CofE is dying. Far from it. The harvest is more plentiful today than ever. The Victorians did us a big miservice by building massive churches (bigger than their needs) in inappropriate places. Town centre churches are not that useful when most people live in suburbs. There are lots of vibrant CofE churches making church plants in the heart of modern communities.

Italiangreyhound Mon 06-May-13 12:19:33

Once the pews are gone, how can the space best be used? What is the right balance between allowing the use of the space by non-Christian groups/using the space for non-Christian activities from within church or rather 'not-specifically-Christian-activities'/using the space for more alternative worship/outreach and traditional stuff.

Curious to hear what people have found that works. We do not have our own building so don't have this 'problem' but also have the problem of having to pay every time we want to use a space like a hall or local Christian cafe.

Tuo Fri 03-May-13 14:50:44

Ah yes... that sounds familiar (re. the pews).

ReallyTired Fri 03-May-13 14:34:29

The bureaucracy involved with re ordering is unbelievable.

Our church took out two of the pews so that wheel chair users could have easier access. It took months to get permission.

The majority of weddings are for people who have no intention of coming to church afterwards. I have absolutely no problem with that. It would be great if they did come back but if I can make their day special and help them make a connection with the transcendent during their service then that works for me. One of the reasons I came back to church when my youngest was born was that we had really good and kind marriage preparation at our local church.

The vast majority of funerals I do are for people with no church connection and it is only in baptisms that I know about 50% of the families as we have a very good Messy Church style service that people come along to.

I would love to be able to reorder the chuch and get rid of the pews. It would be very expensive as we would need to do the floor and heating as well as buy new chairs or stackable pews but it would make the building much more flexible. Oddly enough it tends to be non churchgoers who get most upset about reordering. There is a sense of ownership without participation (or paying for the upkeep) that can be a real issue for churches who do want to use the building in a more community focused way.

Tuo Fri 03-May-13 10:40:50

Coming to this rather late, but just to say that I don't think that the Church is doomed at all.

The discussion about the wedding market is interesting. We were told at our APCM last week that the phenomenon of people joining the electoral roll in order to get married in the church and then never being seen again is pretty common. (Over 100 names were removed from the electoral roll this year since the last time it was re-done in full - can't remember how often it is that that has to be done - although over 50 new names were added in the last year so it's not all doom and gloom).

Greenheart: how do you feel about marrying people who have no intention of becoming regular (or even irregular) members of the congregation? I tend to think that it's impossible to know whether people will come (back) to faith at some point in the future, and therefore giving them a good 'church experience' at a key moment in their lives is a positive thing even if they are not able to make a commitment to the church there and then. But that's just from a lay perspective, obviously...

I'm also interested in the discussion about use of church buildings. Our own church has been undergoing a period of restoration, and some things have been very contentious, such as the ripping out of the Victorian pews, in particular. But with the pews gone the space can be used so much more flexibly, to suit large and more intimate gatherings. And stackable chairs can also be cleared away to create a space that can be used also for other things. Aesthetically, I liked the pews. But in terms of modelling a church that can reach out to its community, their removal was the best thing that could have been done. It took a bold vision to see how this could happen, and then to make it happen, but I do think that it is a step in the right direction.

ReallyTired Fri 03-May-13 10:38:55

The rules have become more relaxed. I feel that people with a qualifying connection under the rules could have their wedding at far lower cost than someone who just wants a pretty venue.

Prehaps quaint churches could work with the humanist society to provide a nice venue for those who want a naming cermony, humanist funeral or humanist wedding.

Or prehaps other christian sects could share the building and facilites. There is a church near me that is shared by catholics, church of england and baptists. They have their services at different times on Sunday.

The church is made up of its members. It is not a building as such. Many parishioners would rather that their money goes to help people rather than maintain old buildings.

Being overly attached to pretty buildings is a form of idolatory and gets in the way of a relationship with Christ.

I'd love to have our church (large 15th century) used more for weddings as we have a beautiful tudor church hall next door which we could use for receptions. Weddings are down this year which may be due to the economic downturn or maybe people like to have the wedding in one place rather than go to church and then on to the reception.

To get married in church you need to show a qualifying connection to the parish and it can be that you lived there 10 years ago

The fees for weddings are fixed so pretty popular churches can't up the fee!

MareeyaDolores Fri 03-May-13 01:35:29

Joking aside, here's an academic study about re-use of church buildings.

I'm always baffled why the CofE doesn't exploit the lucrative potential of the wedding market though. Obviously, it would be bad form to fleece the parishioners, but why should random secular people pay thousands to have rushed Friday weddings in dodgy hotel venues, while beautiful churches sit unused on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

MareeyaDolores Fri 03-May-13 01:29:13

You're grand

Italiangreyhound Fri 03-May-13 00:14:18

I guess it also depends what 'the church' sees as it's function in a society. Part of having a building is the concern and costs needed for it. But I do understand that some churches don't want to hire out their building for use... maybe it really does depend what it would be used for.

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