Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Posts Tagged "Kathleen Kinder":

For The Want Of A Nail?

The – admittedly melodramatic – headline is designed to draw your attention to a problem which seems to be creeping up on us in the Church of England almost un-noticed. (Perhaps there is a Situation Room somewhere in the depths of Lambeth Palace discussing it, but if so, it is a well-kept secret). It may also apply elsewhere in the Anglican Communion? The consequences are readily foreseeable, relentless and reminiscent of a classical tragedy – or pantomime, depending on your viewpoint – the onlooker longs to shout out: ‘look behind you!’

Dramatic decline in clergy numbers
The number of full-time stipendiary priests in the Church of England has declined from over 14,000 in 1959 to 11,076 in 1990, 9,412 in 2000 and 8,346 in 2008. The addition of part-time, self-supporting ministers brings the 2009 figure to 11,691, but (despite strenuous efforts by the Church) the age of ordinands is still steadily rising and now the bishops who have crossed the Tiber are thought likely to take about 50 priests with them. Even were the numbers of applicants to increase in the future, the financial situation means that this steady decline is unlikely to be reversed. These figures are replicated around the world and in most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, in rural areas each church could boast its own ‘Vicar of this Parish’. However,  with every change of incumbent, parishes are now obliged to amalgamate to become benefices; and benefices are remorselessly combined and re-combined to unite up to 10 or even 12 former parishes. Full-time posts become part-time, or held by ‘house-for-duty’ priests. In many places, the incumbent is assisted by self-supporting and retired ministers, but it is a matter of luck whether there happen to be any such in any particular parish. The Revd Mark Bailey wrote to the ‘Church Times’ on 30 July 2010, correctly identifying the problem (too few clergy attempting to cover too many parish churches, which he says is leading to severe mental stress among the clergy) but his solution – ‘draw the line somewhere’- seems hardly a solution on its own.

The Decline in Services of the Word
Fifty years ago, the usual Sunday service was Morning Prayer (Matins), with Holy Communion at an early service (since one was supposed to be fasting) or on high days and holidays. One’s obligation as an Anglican was to take communion three times a year: at Christmas, Easter and one other day. In some places, the shortage of priests now means that the priest-in-charge is obliged to scurry from parish to parish in his or her benefice every Sunday in order to comply with Canon law that there shall be a communion service every Sunday in every parish church. This valiant attempt is unsustainable in a mega-benefice. In the ‘Church Times’ of 30 November 2007  is a letter from Kathleen Kinder headlined by the editors ‘Common Worship and the alienation of the liturgy from the people.

Liturgy to most people today means first and foremost the eucharist, but also any service that can be led only by a priest. I share Canon Wilkinson’s concern at the growing domination of the clergy in the worship area. In recent years, worship practice has greatly enhanced the status of Anglican clergy, while at the same time it has diminished that of Readers, lay leaders, and members of the congregation. It is a tragedy that the services of the word which have contributed so richly to the character of Anglican worship throughout the centuries no longer command the support and recognition they deserve. The Church is the poorer as a result.

The Cost of Doing Nothing
When an irresistible force meets an immoveable object, in the immortal words of Sammy Davis Jr, ‘something’s gotta give’:

C S Lewis expressed it well in ‘That Hideous Strength’:

If you dip into any college or school, or parish – anything you like – at a given point in history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow-room and contrasts weren’t so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there’s even less room for indecision, and choices are more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad getting worse: the possibilities of neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.

If there are not enough priests to take weekly services in each parish church, churches will remain empty in the intervening weeks.
Despite episcopal injunctions to drive to the benefice church chosen for a eucharist service each Sunday, people will mostly not travel to services outside their own parish.
If there are only monthly services in each church, the size of congregations will therefore reduce.
If there are only small congregations once a month, income will fall and there will be pressure to close the churches.
If the churches close, people will have to travel miles to go to services and will not be able to be baptised, married or buried in their local churches, which may have been turned into tea-rooms or left to become ivy-covered ruins.
A central part of the fabric of our national life could simply wither away. And all for the want of a nail?

What is to be done?
What is to be done? Well, in my view there are solutions closer at hand than you may think and I will suggest some in my next blog. But meanwhile, am I seriously over-stating the size of the problem? Is ‘masterly inactivity’, so beloved of generations of Sir Humphrey Applebys, the best proposition?

1. The illustration is ‘Dead Empty Church’ by David Coleman, courtesy 12 Baskets.
2. The statistics up to 2008 were taken from a previous Church of England website page which is no longer there. The 2009 statistics are from the current website page – on hyperlink.
3. This blog is based on an article by me in ‘Conference and Common Room’ Vol 48 #2, Summer 2011 called ‘Send not to know for whom the bell tolls’; grateful thanks to Alex Sharratt of John Catt Educational Ltd for copyright permission.

We rely on donations to keep this website running.