Last week I attended one of those 24 hour brainstorming events in which the real work of organisations often gets done. Modern Church is a hospitable context in which the Christian faith can be discussed with intelligence, integrity and, most importantly, charity.
What is most striking about Modern Church as an organisation is not so much that it is modern, but that its gatherings give shape and substance to the idea of what it means to be Church. Put theologically, this means that it serves the interests of its members, and the purpose of its founding ethos, by being clear about its liberal identity, an identity which is held within that of the wider Church.
Modern Church is also clear about its basic objectives. It is modern and liberal , which does not prevent it being rooted in Christ, something which is clearly reflected in the regularity and depth of its worship. Ultimately, all that goes on in this organisation is held together in worship which sustains the bonds of affection (to borrow a quintessentially Anglican phrase) and holds Modern Church within the greater love of God.
God’s love also moves the organisation’s intellectual life in a continual forward direction, so there is depth and dynamic to its overall life of community. This in turn gives rise to what we call hope. In its organisational life, hope is not about hanging in and hoping for the best for Modern Church, specifically for the next generation of members who will carry its vision forward into the future. It is about having faith in that future and that the organisation is already, in some measure, living in it. Its members know this because there is a sense of the already and the ‘not yet’ in Modern Church’s intellectual life and in its internal relations. There are occasional strong disagreements but we sense that these too are ‘held’ within that same over-arching love, and ‘moved’ forward in its dynamic, so its organisational life has a certain vibrancy to it, which is what will ultimately attract new and younger members.
All of this has something to say to the wider ‘institutional’ Church, mainly because the Church is increasingly thought of as an institution in decline, perhaps because it tries too hard at being a viable organisation. In attempting to remain viable, the Church’s life is becoming systematised to the extent that it is losing sight of what it is really about which is making the love of God in Jesus Christ a reality to be experienced by people in their lives today. The Church cannot do this by remaining in the past.
In the Church in Wales, where I come from, despite the real efforts being made to engage with all of its members in new and creative ways, the Church is still fearful of change. Fear of change is most keenly felt in its internal relations, especially with regard to women’s ministry and the proper deployment of their gifts. As a result of this fear, and the distrust which it brings, hearts are growing increasingly cold. This coldness is often reflected in the ‘thinness’ of much of the Church’s worship, teaching and sociality. There is something not quite true about it, not quite believable.
Something is getting in the way of the Church’s relationship with God as his people. It suggests that cold hearts and systems which are geared to minimize change do not make for a vibrant Christian community. The Church is called to be the visible presence of Christ in the world as a vibrant worshipping community, but this cannot happen where there is fear and distrust, because fear and distrust legitimise cronyism which in turn restricts the dynamic and re-creative movement of the Holy Spirit within tightly controlled male clerical circles. This blocks the forward movement of the Holy Spirit towards a new life for the Church of the future, so the Church has less and less to offer in the way of hope for the world, or even for its own life. As a result, its life gets reduced to a system for getting things done or, as is often the case, not done.