Editorial by Anthony Woollard
from Signs of the Times No. 40 - Jan 2011
As a PCC treasurer and one who has somewhat inadvertently become a bit of a guru on church finance, I am very familiar with the following truth. There are three kinds of people, those who can count, and those who can't.
Seriously, there are of course far more than three kinds of people. In Modern Church alone there are many kinds, and this edition illustrates just a little of their variety.
There are those for whom 'science and religion' remains a key issue at the heart of our intellectual endeavours, with the need for constant theological refinement in the face of Richard Dawkins and his ilk on the one hand and the creationists on the other. Peter Mills, former treasurer of MCU and a great veteran of the movement, shows what a modern Christian who is himself a mathematician rather than a natural scientist can make of current debates.
There are those for whom issues around the arts, as well as the sciences, are central in the quest for Christian truth. Mary Taylor's article on the significance of graffiti may seem quirky, but in her native Northern Ireland, as in other places of contest and alienation, graffiti is (are?) serious business. The arts matter more, perhaps, than we sometimes realise. In fact I suspect that some of the debates which present themselves as being about science and religion are actually dealing with existential, personal questions addressed more directly by the arts.
There are those who unashamedly centre their efforts upon those existential questions through pastoral ministry. Margaret Bradnum's offering is a paper which she has used for enquirers in connection with Back to Church Sunday. In some measure it is an attempt to re-present those "orthodox" concepts such as the Trinity which from time to time are deconstructed in these pages.
Then there are the deconstructionists themselves. I am extremely grateful to Graham Hellier for having replied to my debate with him in the last issue. As I said then, we are coming from different places but can surely agree, at the very least, that each is right in what he affirms though maybe wrong in what he denies. What do you, the readers, think about this debate on the Eucharist?
So many types of people. But not enough of them.
Modern Church's Standing Committee and Council meetings over the autumn have focused on the rather inward-looking matter of membership: attracting new members, communicating with members, involving members. As an organisation, of course, we do a lot more than such navel-gazing, and I invite readers to look at the Modern Church website (and Jonathan Clatworthy's article below) to see in particular how much work has gone into the great debates on women bishops and the Anglican Covenant. But our governing bodies necessarily have to attend to the housekeeping also. And the domestic budget is not looking very comfortable. At around 600-700 members, Modern Church is too large to rely entirely on voluntary administration, but too small to be run effectively and pay its way. We are uncomfortably dependent on reserves, legacies and the occasional conference surplus.
Why, when so many thoughtful Christians recognise the need for a liberal lead in the face of resurgent fundamentalism - why, when we are widely acknowledged as the source of thinking on the Covenant - why, when our presence at the Greenbelt festival attracted so much positive attention - why is all this not being translated into membership?
It's a common phenomenon, of course. Churches themselves, for the most part, are said to be losing members (in the sense of regular worshippers), despite an apparent revival of interest in religious questions in our society. So, for that matter, are trade unions and many other public organisations. Even where membership is growing, it often seems to be more conditional, and less committed, than the leaders would like. Some would argue that the very concept of "membership" is an anachronism in postmodern society in which temporary alliances for specific purposes (political, religious, even sexual) become the norm. I am not sure that this is true, but there is little doubt that single-issue organisations (particularly around environmental issues) and organisations providing consumer benefits as well as tapping idealism (like the National Trust) are the only ones that are seriously bucking the trend.
Modern Church is not a single-issue organisation, but is perhaps best seen as a thinktank for many such organisations and individuals grappling directly with current issues around faith in postmodernity. It provides no consumer benefits, unless you count the discounted charge for an annual conference which some of us regularly find a time of deep refreshment, and, for those who opt to take it, the opportunity to access contemporary theology in a rather cost-effective way through the pages of Modern Believing. Perhaps neither of these is right for everyone, and full membership of an organisation such as Modern Church will always be something of a minority interest - but none the less vital for that...
At a time when many are facing economic difficulties, some people may have to make hard choices about the causes they support. Sadly, one of the contributors to this issue has already had to drop membership of Modern Church (I hope only temporarily) for financial reasons. In the light of what I have said above, it would not be surprising if many were to prioritise their favourite single-issue cause, or something with a direct payback, when times are tight.
I headed this editorial with a reference to 'members who count'. Another concern which we have is that there may not be enough opportunity for our members to become active. Again, bodies like the National Trust, with its noble army of volunteers, score more highly here. This edition includes (as did the last one) a report of the North-West regional network which does involve members more directly. Attempts to set up regional networks elsewhere have been less successful, though some do exist and we would like to hear more of their activities.