Skip to comments.Are we ready for Sydney’s future? - Peter Jensen
Posted on 11/03/2006 2:32:35 PM PST by sionnsar
Twenty-first-century people have lived through tumult.
No other generation has experienced such ever-hastening transformation as we have.
We change jobs frequently; we change houses frequently; we learn new communication skills constantly; we suffer relationship transitions which would astonish previous generations.
We have seen Australia turned into a new, non-British nation.
We have been through a moral and spiritual revolution as well as an economic one. September 11, 2001, the Bali bombings and Global Warming have seen us catapulted into a new and frightening world. We experience the vertigo of constant choice.
This poses a problem for churches. Church may represent just about the only place in our lives where there is no variety it is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Indeed, that may be precisely what we love about church it is a place of tranquillity in a world of storm. At least here is a pew we can occupy without fear of challenge and demand. In the words of an old hymn, Change and decay in all around I see : for us, change, any change, is decay.
Is this still a problem in our Diocese? Is necessary change still resisted? Let me take you to a make-believe church I have visited. The details have been altered; the facts are as I state them.
Demographic change has altered everything outside its doors. The original Anglican population is now tiny, represented by a few lonely souls hanging on to their church, an oasis of peace in a world transformed. When they moved in 50 years ago with their young families, the houses were new, the streets just paved, the only language English, and the Sunday School burgeoning. Now most of their friends have moved or died, and there are no children of their ethnicity.
The building is conventional for the 1950s and well preserved, even attractive. It abounds with memorials and memorial windows and flags. It is dark inside. The pews are hard; the pulpit is ornate.
The building is heavy with memories; you can sense them as you enter. I was married here; Joy was baptised here; we laughed together at that funny sermon there; the fellowship group always used to sit just there; you asked me that question by the door; it was standing there that I first met Graham; I had to get up on the roof to fix that leak; that is the window in memory of my mother; I was sitting in that pew when I came to know the Lord.
Am I mocking this? In no way. When St Barnabas, Broadway was destroyed by fire, a church which we attended for a dozen or so years, it was as if someone had taken our family photo album and trashed it. Key memories have been assaulted, torn from their context in space and erased.
But this make-believe church actually repels newcomers. It is not really interested.
If by some miracle newcomers of a different ethnicity arrive, they cannot cope.
We call it vandalism when people who know nothing of the past, people who care nothing for our past, people who are different, enter the church and take it over. But although we are glad to see the church fill up again, we are not glad that it is with people who are so different. And when they want to make changes to the things we do, we frustrate them.
I remember being in such a church once and asking the leaders why they did not think of replacing the very old-fashioned pews with comfortable seating and so make more room. The parish council, they said, we would never get it past the old Anglo people on the parish council.
Some of our churches are marked by a sense of passivity, a sort of habitual Christianity in which reassurance trumps repentance, in which we are more likely to be transfixed than transformed. Church has become a place in which we carry on a covert resistance movement until help arrives from the Archbishop of Canterbury!
Some ministers have been drained of their vitality and joy by struggling to serve such congregations. They have tried to offer real leadership, but have been met with criticism and rejection.
Many such churches are not really viable. It seems likely that they will follow the path of others to amalgamation and oblivion unless they are prepared to join their minister in working for change.
Do we want good leadership? Then we must face the spiritual problems of whether we want to be led.
We are going to find it increasingly hard to find suitable ministers for such churches. Gifted younger people will join a movement; they will not join an institution.
They are not looking to spend their lives merely acting as a chaplain to an unresponsive group, using an impossible building. I find it difficult to ask people to parachute into such churches; they would prefer to start a new church.
One of my most vivid memories is of a dear friend of mine who was a member of the same church as I was. He was a Professor, a man of impeccable rectitude, an adornment to the gospel. He grew up as an Anglican in the bush. He cherished a more formal style of church; nothing flash: he is what you may call a Prayer Book Christian; like me if it comes to that.
We met in the pews one Sunday morning. We had just been through what for him was a travesty of church substance but no style; omissions of all the things which we cherished music indescribable. I miss the old ways, he said. Then he paused. But, Peter, Id rather give up the old ways, hard though that is, for the sake of what we are now doing for Christ.
For there in that church as the Bible was being taught were young and old men and women being transformed by the Spirit of God, coming to faith and going ahead in Christ.
This is an edited extract of Dr Jensens Presidential Address at the Synod last month. Read it in full or listen to an MP3.
Sort of off-topic, sorry. People figuring that they live at the pinnacle of human history are mildly offensive.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.