Having recently listened to an excellent sermon on the need for us all to reach out (like Jesus) and welcome people from the margins of society, I offer the following comments.
When I was a teenager in the 1950s, priests and bishops were respected even by people who were not church members. In an age when only a tiny proportion of the population went to university, priests were perceived as being highly educated, very articulate: invariably speaking in a clear, distinctive manner, communicating authority.
That age of deference has disappeared, but it is more than that. Collectively, Church leaders have now become something of a joke.
Perhaps we should have an agreed set of collective nouns, designed to remind them of their continuing failure to reach out to the majority of the population of Britain, and of the urgent need for innovation and new ideas?
What about the following?
A puzzlement of popes
A confusion of cardinals
An aridity of archbishops
A bafflement of bishops
A perplexity of priests
A muddle of ministers
A dumble of deacons (1)
Discuss, in the context of the urgent need for the Church to re-engage with all thinking people in Britain.
It needs to be stressed that (as individuals) priests and bishops, etc, are wonderful people to meet and talk to. But they do need to become more aware that, collectively, they rarely inspire more than the inclusive few.
I link these comments with my firm opinion that it is high time that the Church started to take an interest in what members actually believe, and require regular feedback from congregations.
(1) “dumble” is a word of my own creation, but I think it evokes what is being suggested.)
Is the “need for the church to re-engage with thinking people”. merely a prolongation of its focus on survival, power and authority - the authority which is now mocked and largely rejected?
Perhaps the time has come for Christianity to abandon its crenelated castles and return to the peasant roots of its founder.
Perhaps “thinking people” have realised the poverty of a theology which preaches humility and peace yet focuses on power and conquest.
Perhaps the denigration of church leadership (though seldom of individual leaders) stems from the realisation that there is, there must be, more to Christianity than is apparent from the popular press, the pomp of state occasions and the fulminations of evangelical preachers - and from a theology which gives them credibility.
Perhaps we need to look, more closely, at what the church requires of its adherents before endorsing its need to project its belief system to a wider audience.
Yet, surely we can still value our church, for, behind the veil, the church is, and has been, a focus of goodness and care for others and love and community
- and even of spiritual reality.
Dare we call for change and so risk losing all that we now value?
To be honest there has been no better time for church leaders to re-engage with communities. If we look at society there is increasing hardship, poverty, use of food banks, added pressures and expectations, increased levels of stress…I could go on.
In these times people need someone they can trust to lean on, where they can outpour their feelings and possibly seek advice. But within that last sentence is the key word, ‘trust’. I do not so much think people look upon religious leaders and representatives as a joke, but more like figures they do not trust. People often do not see the church as being relevant anymore.
Churches are in general acting on issues, poverty being an obvious case, but all too often this is not at the forefront of campaigns. I would like to see religious representatives actively involved in community campaigns, rebuilding that trust and re-engaging.
The net could also be broadened, making the church itself more accessible. I remember one news item where I live in the south west of England, of a church opening its doors to local skateboarders. Okay, these skateboarders may drift off to do other things and not attend services or meetings, but they will remember, some returning when they are ready and some repaying the welcome they received in other ways.
I may have gone off on a different tangent slightly with my reply, but in general I think churches, their leaders and representatives have to approach things a little differently.