Monday, 29 June 2015

Need for a Church of mission not maintenance

Brentwood has become the latest diocese to announce dramatic restructuring proposals due to budget shortfalls.
The present language of deficits and devolution abounds in the announcement from the diocese, including the news of a number of redundancies resulting from the process.

Localism seems to be another in vogue concept with Brentwood diocese, with many of the functions previously undertaken by diocesan commissions now  to be devolved to parish level. The Commissions are to be replaced by three vicariates for education, formation and evangelisation.

It is strange that in an organisation that professes to be so concerned with humanity that it is people that always seem to be the first casualties of these restructuring processes.

The Church has to face it is an institution in decline in Britain and most parts of Europe. The numbers attending mass are down, so income is also reduced. Too many are just walking away finding Church limited to buildings as opposed to people.

The leaders of the Church seem for the most part to be content to be managers of decline, yet there can be another way. The choice is between a Church of maintenance or mission.

The publication of Laudato si offers a real opportunity for the Church to play an active role in combatting climate change. The Church can be an advocate for sustainable living, whilst practicing that approach itself. Why not become beacons of good practice, bringing in sustainable energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines. Parishes could grow food organically, work with others in the local communities on things like recycling and bee conservation projects.

Such moves would see the Church fulfilling its prophetic role of witness and mission. It would also make the Church relevant and vital to all those younger generations who presently walk away at, or not long after, confirmation. They return only when they are seeking to get their own children into a Catholic school.

The seeds of the resurrection of the Church can be seen in some of the present physical and fiscal elements of decline. Take the buildings that are becoming redundant due to falling mass attendances. Why not turn these over to be converted to affordable housing. This would be really contributing to society in a visible way.
It is the way that Church tackles what could be seen as physical decline that also indicates the nature of the Church. All too often it is the accountants holed up in the finance departments of the diocese who make such decisions, believing it is much better to hold onto property until the best price can be attained in the market from a property developer. This is the approach of an asset manager, not the followers of Jesus Christ. Turning property over for affordable housing would be another way in which the Church could be making an act of witness in the world.

A Church truly alive in the spirit of social justice, as outlined by Pope Francis, could make these moves in environment, housing and other social justice areas to become truly relevant and prophetic to our world today. This should be the way forward.

Indeed, we already see this type of thing happening across the country with the central role that churches are playing in the foodbank network. Many foodbanks are based in churches with a disproportionate number of the faithful involved in this work. In some instances church buildings that have become redundant have been redeployed to do this valuable work of charity ministering to the hungry.

There can be real change to make the Church relvant and real for the 21st century. Given such changes, no doubt those numbers leaving would return and there could be a new flowering of Church at the centre of our society. The alternative ofocourse is to continue to manage decline, letting the bean counters set the terms and conditions of change, with a few elderly men continuing to oversee what remains a very large portfolio of real estate. I know which path I would like to follow.

*see: - 29/6/2015

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