Church of England dead in 20 years?

Let us all hope and pray fervently that this dire prediction does not come to pass. General Synod in York heard the bracing report – as The Telegraph reports.

17 comments

  1. The reasons for this –certainly not confined to Britain– are doubtlessly complex and may not become clear for a long time, if ever.

    Two thoughts.

    The longstanding internal incompatibilities contained within the so-called comprehensiveness of Anglicanism have not, IMHO, helped the CofE deal with the modern and postmodern West. To outsiders, it has often seemed incoherent and weak.

    Moderns or PostModerns remind me much of the children in the marketplace in Jesus’ parable, however: neither mourning nor dancing pleases them. Sticking to your traditions makes you exclusive and dogmatic. Altering them to please the cultured despisers never makes them despise you less, or join up.

    But I do not think the Established CofE’s situation can be thought through separately from what appears to be the dissolution of British identity, its long post-imperial nervous breakdown, delayed by the Cold War but now in full multicultural swing. (Again, not only Britain is in this pickle.) The fractious members of the “United” Kingdom had a rough go of it even when they were all European and Christian. Now, apparently absent much self-confidence, in order to create a (to me, bizarre) Britishness that can embrace Muslims and Blacks and Elton John as well, the whole country is morphing into either something novel or something merely messy. The Church’s predicament is a share in that.

  2. This is sad. I think the above comment is very cautious and wise. Watch for certain Catholic triumphalist internet “clowns” using this to ridicule the CofE, placing all their bets they won’t end up with their own feet in their mouths in 40 years time.

  3. The same might be said for the Catholic Church, at least in the US. Why would “the younger generation” (and with the use of that term, I think we see the problem already!) want to be part of an institution that simply mimics the secular beliefs and actions to which they already have ready and unquestioned access? In short, the way to bring “the yoots” to the faith is not by making the faith imitate the secular world, but by offering a serious alternative to it’s madness.

    As Stephen said above: “Altering them [traditions] to please the cultured despisers never makes them despise you less, or join up.”

    AMEN

  4. The question is not whether one responds to postmodern culture or not. The Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church are both responding to secular postmodernity, but in different ways.

    The Anglican Communion has responded by accommodating some of secular postmodernity’s mores, like the equality of women, for what it believes to be good Christian reasons. Signs in the Catholic church – increasing intransigence over the ordination of women, exhorting the faithful to eat fish on Fridays, re-translating the liturgy to adhere more closely to the Latin and so on – suggest that its response is to reject secular postmodernity and close ranks.

    One sometimes hears Catholics insinuate that the CofE is dying because appealing to secular postmodern culture by mimicking its beliefs is the wrong option – if you sell out to culture and appear weak, nobody will bother to join. I suggest that the fact that the Catholic church is thriving as a result of adopting the opposite strategy – appealing to people by being a bastion of unchanging certainty in this postmodern sea – is not necessarily a sign that it has the moral or theological high ground here.

    After all, if the Christian story tells us one thing, it’s that it is possible to live for the wrong reasons, and die for the right ones.

  5. But is the Catholic Church “thriving”? In our Archdiocese, it is estimated that the average Catholic attends Mass once every 3-4 weeks. And our parishes currently have an average of 5 Masses per weekend… more and more aren’t attending at all, but claim to be Catholic…

    And quite honestly, the opposite strategy is turning people away here…

  6. The CofE’s demise has been predicted in just these tones for centuries.

    It is said that only little old ladies come to Anglican churches. The irony is that there is always a new generation of these little old ladies to keep the show going.

    The CofE has a central role in English literature and culture comparable to that of the Catholic Church in Irish history. Sadly, the latter looks even more likely to disappear than the former.

  7. An Anglican priest said these words to me 20 years ago: “The closing Mass of this diocese will be held in our lifetime. It will be attended by two little old ladies and a dog; and conducted by fifty men in the most gorgeous gold vestments.”

  8. Jeffrey Herbert :

    … the Catholic Church, at least in the US. … an institution that simply mimics the secular beliefs and actions

    I find this to be a sad, negative, biased, and judgmental view of the US RCC. I do not think you can support this view with anything other than more of the same sort of subjective opinions from an ecclesiastical partisanship.

  9. Theo Hawksley :

    Signs in the Catholic church – increasing intransigence over the ordination of women, exhorting the faithful to eat fish on Fridays, re-translating the liturgy to adhere more closely to the Latin and so on – suggest that its response is to reject secular postmodernity and close ranks. … the Catholic church is thriving

    If you think the RCC is thriving and that the cited positions are the cause, you have an awful lot of work in hand to prove your case.

    This sounds to me to be more like wishful thinking for those of one particular RC faction rather than relating to reality.

  10. For ‘thriving’, read, ‘declining marginally less precipitously’ – by a fraction of a percent over a forty year period, according to one study.

    I have very little knowledge and no experience of the US context, so I’ll restrict my comments to the UK context. Here, several factors conspire to give the (extremely questionable) impression to some Catholics that the RCC is ‘thriving’ in comparison to the CofE. Among them:
    – in the UK context the rate of attendance at RC churches has been steady (e.g. not declining) since 2005, and has recently overtaken the rate of attendance at CofE churches although (obviously) the number of people baptised CofE remains higher.
    – as the RC church in the UK has always been numerically smaller in terms of people and buildings, RC decline (while almost equal to CofE decline) is not as noticeable.
    – the CofE’s cultural capital/societal influence has decreased more noticeably, largely again because it had more in the first place.

    Some of this gives the impression (to a certain sort of Catholic) that the RC church must be doing the right thing by resisting the wiles of secular postmodernity. Statistically at least, it may be – studies suggest the only denominations thriving are conservative ones. Theologically, I’m not so sure.

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