Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Covenant Mess

I've been wanting to blog my own thoughts on this for a while, but don't have time to write much at the moment. In the meantime, here are a few links to events saying what is going on. I've used original sources where possible.

Here are some thoughts I've posted elsewhere on some of the underlying problems which Tom Wright didn't address in his piece:

The rapid growth of some churches and decline of others has meant that the C of E synodical system is no longer fairly representative of the membership. Instead, it is heavily weighted towards members of small churches (which tend to be more liberal and/or catholic) compared to larger ones which tend to be more evangelical and/or charismatic. For example, St Ebbe's in Oxford has five main congregations on a Sunday, with a total attendance probably over 1000, yet it only counts as one church. HTB is a lot bigger even than that. 1000 members of local traditional anglo-catholic churches (of which there are many) would probably be 20 or more churches, with far more seats on Synods. This means that a high (and growing) proportion of congregants in the C of E, particularly the more evangelical ones, are greatly under-represented in the structures of the C of E.

The increasing mobility in society has led to a situation, particularly in urban areas, where the parish system has broken down. Parish boundaries are increasingly irrelevant and the majority of members of many churches do not live in the parish. Urban churches are therefore becoming more specialist - students, young families, elderly people, evangelical, liberal, anglo-catholic, whatever. The hubs of communities in towns are no longer the old village high streets, which worked well with the parish system, but larger developments. In such a context, it makes little sense to have a parish system, at least within towns. That's actually a large part of the thing they wrote.

As society becomes decreasingly Christian, people are more and more recognising that most people in Britain have very little awareness of the good news of Jesus Christ. This means that people who think it is important to proclaim that good news to everyone, and who don't see it being done effectively want to be able to work with the unreached wherever they are.

With the whole women bishops thing being debated, it is felt that there is a fair bit of debate going on about the role of bishops, and it is likely that the next few years will be formative for the structures in the C of E for the next few decades. If they're going to make a point about bishops, it seems a sensible time to do it.

There is a growing unity among the different groups of evangelicals within the C of E. As far as I can tell, this is the first time New Wine and Reform have got together on something. Certainly, it feels like the charismatic divide is starting to heal, which is good. That also means that they are more likely to be listened to.

What I think Tom Wright's response risks doing, however, is to create divisions within evangelical Anglicanism, which isn't good. I don't think that the original covenant did that in the same way, and Bishop Tom would have been much better (in my opinion) to gently point out a few faults rather than lay into them so heavily.

Here are a few more quick thoughts:

  • I know a fair few of the people who signed the covenant personally, and I really don't think they're trying to do schism. What they're trying to do is be clear that there's a lot that they agree on about ways forward in the current situation, specifically with the debates about the future of bishops in the Church of England and the debate that should be happening about the future of the parish system
  • The covenant is a covenant with each other - it's them agreeing on something.
  • They represent a lot more people than Dave Walker suggested. I know at the college I'm training at, only a minority are members of any of the groups officially listed there (I think, though that might be close), but probably a majority would agree with the substance of what was said
  • I don't think the purpose of it is to establish an us-and-them situation - it's to try to kick start dialogue. If someone else wants to come back at them with a discussion about how the parish system enables mission today, for example, I imagine they would be more than welcome to. But as it is, there's a large chunk of the C of E that thinks it hinders it.

More here.

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