A few weeks ago I went to a clergy training day, a gathering of the clergy in the Bay of Plenty, stipendiary, non- stipendiary, and retired. We talked about the statistics presented at our Diocesan Synod a couple of weeks before that by the vicar general, statistics that make grim reading. Numbers of stipendiary priests a fraction of what they were 40 years ago, numbers attending church falling dramatically, age structure aging by the second, finances looking very wobbly.
The ensuing conversation seemed to be all about how to get people to come to church. I find this so frustrating. The point of church is not to get people to join us. The point of church is to be a people who engage with God in mission. Others felt this was irresponsible and that as clergy our role is to ensure that the church carries on. Why would we want that I wonder? One idea was to close a pretty significant 8am service because they will eventually die (true they mostly are older, but so what) and use the building as a music school. I don’t even begin to understand that idea to be honest.
Why do I approach these things differently? After that clergy day I reflected on that question. As I did so I was reminded how much my years in youth ministry has given me, including a very different perspective on mission and the place of the church in "the Kingdom of God". This is especially true of my 9 years in the national role: attending various conferences, running and speaking at various conferences, and particularly our national youth forums which I ran with a group of young people from around the country. I helped run an event on mission shaped youth ministry. In this I realised that the future of the church was in God’s hands, not mine. And it would ultimately be up to young people to create that future with God. My role was to share the gospel with them, with the riches of our Anglican tradition. I share it as a taonga, a treasure or gift and then watch them make sense of it and create out of that. And our national youth events focussed on mission for the last 5 or 6 years. Which were all about resourcing young people in all of this. And This group of young people came up with that great phrase – missional community.
All of this has been seriously coloured by my Franciscan calling. Reading and praying the principles for the last 20 years has seriously coloured how I understand God's mission and our place in it. Experiencing church around the world with both young ministry and the Franciscans has allowed me to appreciate the riches of what we offer, and that preserving it is not the point. It is the spring board, the tools which God uses to create in us a people focussed not on survival but God’s mission.
A lot of the time I am left feeling on the outside, and at times really frustrated with this church. But also people keep saying to me to keep speaking out, so I guess I have a place. This article is helpful. I feel myself saying “Amen”.