This blog from Ian Paul identifies the real culprit, behind current clashes over parish vs plant, as the growing management culture in the CofE. He considers this to be a potentially uniting issue for traditional parish churches and new plants.
I wonder whether this comment is relevant for the Kirk too?
Are we also subject to a creeping management culture?
Full disclosure, I have spent some time on the fringes of the New Parish movement which was referenced in the aforementioned presentation by Alison Milbank. Also, I once wrote a fairly poor dissertation on the future of the parish. And for what it’s worth, I am currently a parish minister.
Having got that out of the way, and having perused some of the discussion surrounding the ‘Save the Parish’ movement. Is it possible that a key dynamic is being missed?
Where is the love?
Much of the discussion surrounding ‘Save the Parish’ (StP) is about cultural preference and the identity of the CofE? For example, the parish system is what makes the Church of England, the Church of England; who would we be otherwise? The StP website remarks that “this is your church” and “you have a say.”
Is this where the discussion should start about the nature of church? Should we not start with love for God? What does he require of the church? What type of church would honour him best? What structure would fulfil his divine commands?
And should we not, secondly, look to shape the church around love for others? What sort of church would welcome outsiders? What sort of church would best share the Gospel and make disciples of ‘the way’?
Too much of the discussion around church structures demands a church that meets ‘my preferences’ or bases the structure of the church around pragmatic decisions about money and resource.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether a church is an old fashioned parish church with all that entails, or a funky new plant in a pub’s upper room. Without love, first for God and second for the other, neither approach is appropriate. The structure of the church is cruciform; we crucify our personal preferences for the love of God and neighbour.
A movement has emerged within the Church of England, although it appears it may be diametrically opposed to the emerging church. ‘Save the Parish’ (http://savetheparish.com) wants a “concerted campaign to save the parish system, as the Church of England has inherited it.” And it appears to be gaining some traction, including the twittersphere.
The patchy website indicates that the movement is still developing goals but notes that, “‘a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of the church’… sounds like an ambition worth having.” Thinking Anglicans also link to a presentation from the esteemed Alison Milbank argueing for the preservation of the traditional parish system.
I’m not an Anglican so the finer points may be lost on me, but it appears that the ‘Save the Parish’ movement is ultimately a protest against the perceived, deliberate, demolition of traditional Anglicanism to make way for new church plants detached from the parish system.
The Church of Scotland has taken a broadly similar, if diluted, approach to that depicted of the Anglican hierarchy. We too have chosen to reduce our traditional structures and buildings. We too have set our sights on the reduction of stipendiary ministries. The question is, will we also experience a protest movement?
Having asked so many questions of the humble sermon, I admit to having recently been blessed by sitting under just that style of preaching. Perhaps fittingly, this took place in a church in the Western Isles.
In many parts of the Outer Hebrides Christian faith is still visible, especially where statues, crosses and standing stones remain. Popular caricature speaks of swings tied up on the Sabbath, but vibrant moves of the Holy Spirit are also recorded.
I once heard a Lewisman describing Celtic Christianity as spirituality in work boots. And certainly my experience of the Western Isles is of fiercely resilient, hardworking, humorous and generous people. I would add open, calloused hands to the work boots.
It’s therefore hard to reconcile the sentimental and mystical nature of current resurgent ‘Celtic Spirituality’ with the actual experience of Island life. Many Islanders appear more likely to shoot the goose than recognise it as an embodiment of the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly a number of commentators suggest that today’s Celtic Christianity is a recent development based on scattered elements from a diverse historical reality. These critics highlight that the current Celtic resurgence reveals more of the needs of 21st Century urbanites than of the historic faith of the Islands to which they make pilgrimage (eg Prof. Donald Meek – here and here). Of greater concern is a perceived pagan and New Age creep within the movement.
The missionary zeal of the ancient Celtic saints has much to teach us but does it matter that what today passes as a unified Celtic Spirituality appears to have little historic basis? And despite the tenuous link to history, how do we take seriously the needs of contemporary Christians revealed in this new spirituality?
This matters because there are problems in current mainstream Christianity which the Celtic movement aims to address. There is a need for a whole life spirituality which encompasses work and nature. There is a need for a more earthy language of faith and to value the community as well as the individual.
Perhaps the real issue is the attempt to found this contemporary approach to faith on a questionable historic reconstruction. Forgive the flippancy, but if the same movement was instead to call itself Jedi Christianity it would avoid the historical problem, and might it sometimes be a more accurate title?