You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden… your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
I was greatly looking forward to the Conference on the New Evangelisation for the Ordinariate, held at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, in central London. There was a last minute change in our speakers, Fr Aidan Nichols OP taking over from Fr Allan Hawkins, who was recovering from a nasty accident. Both Fr Aidan in the morning, and Fr Paul Richardson (a former Anglican Bishop) presented us with carefully prepared, useful and thought provoking addresses. The text of Fr Aidan’s address can be found on the official Ordinariate website (will Fr Richardson’s soon join it? ) and the Ordinariate Expats blog – and Fr Ed Tomlinson’s blog both have their own summaries. Rather than just join the summaries, I want to take some of the points the speakers made and draw them out, especially in the light of past Anglo-Catholic experience of growth and decline.
‘What you need to do is to grow churches.’ These words of Fr Aidan’s stirred memories of reading, and trying to interpret for Anglo-Catholics, the theory and practice of the Church Growth Movement (CGM). This is where it would have been most interesting to hear from Fr Hawkins, for the Americans have much more direct experience of ‘planting churches.’ This means, quite simply, that you establish a congregation in an area where one does not exist, and you then evangelise to add new members and thus make it grow in size. In the last 30 years we have seen this happening in the UK among evangelical Christians. We became conscious of what we then called the House Churches. At the early stage of their life they were just this: a group of Christians meeting for Sunday worship and weekday fellowship in someone’s house. Their primary means of evangelisation was through friendship: each of the group bringing a friend.
Fr Aidan gave us a useful three-fold division of the mission of the church: pastoral care which is for the faithful; missionary activity which takes place among non-Christians; the new evangelisation which is directed to post Christians, i.e. those who have been baptised but have never practised the faith – those who once did, but now have lapsed – families who have abandoned the faith which they kept (but also gradually lapsed from) over several generations.
The work of the CGM has identified four ways in which congregations grow: first is biological growth, by which the children of believing parents grow up in the faith and life of the Church coming to make their own mature commitment; secondly, recovery growth, in which those who had lapsed return to regular practise of their religion; thirdly, transfer growth, as people move home (or country!) and join a new congregation; and fourthly, conversion growth, when an unbeliever is converted, baptised and enters into the Christian Way.
The statistics show that the Church of England has been in gradual decline from the beginning of the 19th century. There was at that time a dramatic increase in population coupled with the wholesale removal of the rural population into the towns and cities because of the Industrial Revolution. The decline which follows is masked by the tremendous church building programme, and by the heroic efforts of a newly energised and professionalized clergy, together with the revival of the Religious Communities, and women ministering as Deaconesses and Parish Workers.
The statistics show that by the latter half of the 18th century the Catholic Church in England had almost died out. Even with the Catholic Relief Bills and finally Emancipation in 1829, it took the external forces of clergy émigrés from the Terror of the French Revolution and waves of Irish immigration to give to the indigenous Catholic Church new heart and courage. Then the Church grew continuously until the 1960’s, when decline set in.
Fr Paul Richardson pointed to some of the things which have contributed to the decline of church-going: secularisation in all its forms; the general decline of clubs and political parties; women gong out to work; leisure activities. But the facts are indisputable: in 1980 12% of the population went to church on Sunday, but by 2007 it had halved to 6%. Fr Paul took us through new forms of spirituality (proving that religious practice is far from dead, though often expressed in ways far removed from orthodox belief) and the idea of ‘believing without belonging’, pointing to the statistic of a recent survey where 70% of the population of the UK identified themselves as ‘Christian’.
Fr Paul was quite clear that churches do grow! Fr Aidan’s observation was that while the native Anglo/Irish Catholics are declining, numbers are increasing with incomers from Asia and Africa – transfer growth in CGM terms. The Anglican Diocese of London claims 70% growth between 1990 and 2010, but the Anglican Diocese of Southwark has seen decline. Why?
‘To know Jesus Christ and the power of his Spirit.’ Both our speakers were clear that there could be no growth without the renewal in
holiness and discipleship of each individual Catholic Christian. And even where this happened good people were still unclear about what they believed and how they could speak of it to others. The Year if Faith is the essential preliminary to any meaningful evangelisation.
Both our speakers engaged with the hopes and the difficulties of evangelisation. It seems to me now that the Ordinariate has a very important question to ask itself. In the Church of England we were often small congregations of perhaps 50 – 60 people. We declined because we were absorbed in maintaining large buildings, elaborate worship, music, fundraising, paper work and committees. If we take an Ordinariate Group of 20 and put it into its own building and with its own priest to support, why should the previous pattern of decline now be transformed into one of growth? Good liturgy (however that may be understood) will not, on its own, reverse the decline.
Speaking of liturgy, a few reflections on the Mass which concluded the day. The use of the (American) Book of Divine Worship was not an obvious one for a day like this. But it certainly helped to remind me just how far Anglo-Catholics in the UK have moved from the ‘Prayer Book’ liturgies which are now a memory only for those of us over 60. Indeed, I have spoken in a previous post of just how much we have been formed by our use of the 1970 Roman Missal and Breviary. The language of Cranmer felt repetitive and over-wordy, and had an uncomfortably ‘Protestant’ feel to it. The ceremonial which accompanied it seemed incoherent: cross and two candles, burse and veil and clergy sitting uncomfortably in the choir stalls seemed rather like a C of E Deanery Eucharist; then to this was added censing of everything and everyone at the offertory, and five lines of rubric to tell us communicants that we must NOT touch the chalice. It was a liturgy which really fell between two stools – it is not where most ordinary English (Ordinariate) Catholics are, nor will it appeal to the Prayer Book enthusiasts waiting in the C of E.
That said, thank you to our speakers, our organisers and our host parish. More on evangelisation and more on growth, please.
The Year of Faith … is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord… the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith. Pope Benedict XVI in Porta Fidei.