Saturday, 18 February 2012

Facing the Future

Some food for thought when churches are planning ahead is provided by the monthly bulletin, Future First, from the Brierley Consultancy. I was quite surprised to read that, of around 550,000 funerals which will be taken in the UK in 2012, about one third will be taken by Anglican clergy. This works out at about 15 funerals per active clergy person (though, of course, some areas and some ministries will involved many more than others.) Given that readers and retired clergy also do a great deal to help cover funeral ministry, it does seem that we have the capacity to ensure that our funeral ministry is accompanied by good pastoral back up and that undertakers can make contact speedily and expect a response that meets the different needs of bereaved families. Working more across deaneries may be important in some places where clergy are stretched. It is important for undertakers, parish clergy and hospital chaplains to establish a strong relationship of trust and to meet locally from time to time to ensure that communication processes are meeting the needs of the bereaved. 

I was less surprised to read 'There are signs that there is less interest in teaching courses but relational engagements like Back to Church Sunday and Messy Church remain popular and are growing. So is mid week ministry and attendance at cathedrals and many larger churches - 1 in 7 attenders go to a church with at least 500 in the congregation. The unusual and sporadic is becoming the norm.'  This seems to fit in with what I observe and perhaps suggests that churches should be less concerned to fit everything into a Sunday and more focused on what they do all week and on relational activities which get people meeting, talking, sharing stories, activities, ideas and faith. Many 'big' churches have lots of smaller groups and cells doing different things. Some of these are really quite small but feed into the wider life of the local church and bring a connected but distinctive witness in their own community. This all certainly fits in with what the young people who met the bishops and archbishops last year told us - today, it's all about relationship and interaction between people, taking time to know, hear and understand one another.

One fascinating insight is from a series of articles about contemporary idols that appeared the bulletin in 1991 and which have now been compared with a similar series in 2011. The nature and relative importance of the things people idolize or 'worship' and by which they are therefore motivated has changed over time

1991                                                                  2011
Individualism                                                      Materialism
Economic growth                                                Freedom for sexual expression
Relativism (all perspectives are tolerated)           Individualism
Fascination with the new                                     Facination with technology
Fanaticism (attachment to an ideology)               Gratification (personal satisfaction)
Historicism (desire to make the past accessible)  Celebrity

I think these 'idols' show quite a shift in perpsetive from a society that values historical and collective perspectives and ideological or political aspirations to one that is much more concerned with individual and personal experience and is less interested in the past and more motivated by how it can influence the future. There is plenty in the Christian tradition that urges us to think about the future - God's ways of drawing us forward toward the end of time and the consumation of history. And there is plenty which allows us to reflect on healthy interpersonal relationships and also what can go wrong in terms of how individuals and societies relate. My husband (who works in a very future-oriented industry) has often commented on how focused on the past much of church life is. Perhaps we need a good overhaul of the images, narratives and source texts we use to preach, teach and shape our worship and activities. It could be argued that Jesus shows greater urgency when He talks about the future and that quite a lot of His teaching is focused on what is ahead, what is unknown, where the fate of peoples and nations is headed.    

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