The Sunday Times last week published one of those pieces on secularisation which seem to me to go round in circles. Essentially the argument is as follows. Secularisation is an irresistible force. Because of secularisation, all churches are going down the tubes. Because the churches are going down the tubes, secularisation is an irresistible force.
To their credit, they gave me space for a response today And BBC Scotland are doing an interview tomorrow morning.
My version of the argument goes as follows.
I like living in a secular society. It is preferable to either a confessional or a theocratic state. It requires a respectful but non-deferential relationship between church and state.
Some churches are going down the tubes – mainly those which are based on patterns of traditional membership rather than active discipleship.
Secular society suits small churches like the SEC because there are more people for us to talk to. We are working hard at the new patterns of church life – we intend to survive and thrive in the secular society.
From my perspective (American Episcopal Monastic) I find your reflection truly exciting. We (monastics) are at the fringes of TEC and TEC is at the fringe of American Society. And from the fringes we can speak in ways that are not available to the center. What I really believe is that the Church will become ever more an expression of community – and I think this is consistent with your description of discipleship rather than membership based identity. Disciples make community I think, while members make an organization. Learning to be less wealthy and less powerful is certainly part of what we have to do – but it also certainly consistent with following Jesus. I will share your essay with folks around the monastery as this is a topic of great energy for us these days. And I must say I had the chance to worship at the SEC in Helensburgh on my last visit to Scotland. There surely was a lively spirit in the gathered community.
Thanks Scott – very interesting. And I suppose the squaring of the circle is the way in which interest in monastic communities and their picture of community is growing – witness the Benedictine focus around Archbishop Justin Welby and the very positive way in which people respond to that. I think that secularisation will sweep us away unless we can make that relational/vocational shift
I wonder if the expectation that a SEC congregation will give sufficient to support the costs of minstry focus their minds on practical discipleship in a way that the CofE does not. They coast along assuming that the past will pay for the present and they can pretend to be living in that past.
Thanks Sylvia. I think there are a couple of strands to that. The situation in the C of E has changed radically – ask any parish treasurer about the scale of Parish Share. Funding has shifted from the centre to the parish – average giving has been going up even as membership figures have been going down. I think that our pattern of self-supporting congregations does engender a sense of responsibility in the congregation – but I think that our pattern of augmentation/subsidy has in some cases created dependency and been complicit in decline. But there is one more very important connection for me. Where congregations tend to be of ‘membership’ character, the financial pattern tends to be one of ‘fund-raising’ rather than stewardship or pledged giving. I think that is one more reason why congregations which are rather more of membership than discipleship character tend to be in decline.
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