Wow. Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell argues that “the future lies not with clergy in the pulpit, but with worshipping communities led by lay people.” There are proposals for “groups of 20-30 people meeting in people’s homes” – a radical change for the Church of England which is led by ordained clergy and known for the beauty of its ritual language, ceremonial, and choral music.
What’s going on? The rapid dissolution of Christendom is what’s going on. As the article notes, though every citizen theoretically belongs to the established church, only about 1.34% of the populace attends Anglican worship on Sundays. Church attendance has declined 40% in 30 years.
The dilemma for those of use committed to sacramental and liturgical renewal is well stated by the RNS author:
Anglicanism has always performed a balancing act between a sacramental approach that puts the Eucharist at the center of the life of a worshipping community, requiring a priest to celebrate the sacrament — and an evangelical idea of church focused more on Scripture and lay leadership. Influenced by American evangelism, the latter has gained momentum in recent years.
What will happen to sacraments and liturgical rites when existing institutions are not sustainable? What will the collapse of current structures mean for the celebration of the liturgy going forward? What will survive of sacramental life? Will it change, adapt, grow, be renewed, become less important for the Christian life, or wither away?
I think I know what I would like to happen and what all I would like to survive and flourish. But we don’t get a much of a choice about that. And we must not be too sure that our wishes coincide with God’s will. The reality is what it is, and it is precisely in situations of rapid change and decline that we are called – hopefully and joyfully – to serve God and the church. And, together, make the best and wisest decisions we can.
No easy answers from me on this one. No predictions about the future either. Just lots of prayers for my dear, fellow Christians in the Church of England.