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Is The End Nigh?

Updated: Apr 15



Some call it “terminal orthodoxy” and others “cut flower" Anglicanism.

Both terms express the idea that even if the position of the faithful in the Church of England in 2024 is currently tenable, the situation is unlikely to last beyond the present generation. And for that reason, it is also sometimes known as the “one generation strategy”- make hay while the sun shines or bricks while there is straw - but recognise that the end is nigh for the orthodox in the CofE - that the opportunities for orthodox ministry are withering and dying.

There are, of course, those who reject such “trajectory” arguments and will criticise this blog accordingly for being unduly pessimistic.

Such thinkers will point to a 'blocking minority' in the House of Laity, the numerical decline in liberal congregations relative to other traditions, a Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) that (depending on the local representatives) can weed out the worst episcopal candidates, the availability of funding for church planting and revitalisation, the absence of change in liturgy and, arguably, doctrine, “winning” the next Synod elections, local civic functions, an OK (or better) diocesan bishop and so on. The reader may well add their own grounds for hope.

Any optimism does, however, need to be balanced with the reality that many orthodox ordinands, at different stages, are questioning their futures and the possible lack of curacies for those who do enter the Church but are determined to resist liberalism. The odds of the House of Bishops being anything other than revisionist-controlled for the foreseeable future appear very long indeed, and the impact of that on the operation of General Synod has been all too evident. Few would regard the existing provision for prayers of blessing for same-sex couples as the end rather than the start of the process. Slavery reparations, cathedral Iftar meals, pronouncements on the definition of the family and Victorian missionary endeavours raise even more questions. In many dioceses, whatever the tradition, the number of clergy posts are reducing all the time and the options offered in multi-parish and multi-tradition benefices are all but impossible.  There is fear about the next rounds of episcopal appointments and the forthcoming arch-episcopal one. The next Synod elections are likely to present a stark and obvious divide between candidates, with little opportunity for quiet moderates or “clean skins”.

And all this is before the orthodox commence, or increase, militancy - whether it be withholding funds, utilising the “Ephesian Fund”, accepting “Alternative Spiritual Oversight”, creating “parallel structures”, organising “irregular” ordinations, withdrawing from Chapter meetings or “Chrism masses”, being vocally critical of bishops, etc. In some places (just the threat of) such acts have already seen clergy summoned before their bishop, and it might well be thought that militant parishes will not be rewarded by dioceses.

Common Ground?

There is, in fact, much common ground between the more optimistic and more pessimistic diagnoses. Partly, it is that the problems are so great a permanent multi-generation national solution is required in the form of a Third Province or, at least a “structural settlement” akin to a Province. The likelihood of the former is addressed here and unfortunately, the latter is something Synod has twice voted against.

Similarly, those fearing that not far down the line the supply of ordinands will dry-up, or faithful parishes will be penalised for militancy or merely for not doing “good disagreement” are recognising the need to have a medium or long-term plan. Older clergy, who themselves think that they can serve with integrity until (maybe early) retirement, are nonetheless recognising that the future will be different. Such clergy are establishing work outside their main congregation, usually in the parish, which is both currently missional and may form a “lifeboat” when required. Others are encouraging and helping younger clergy to “church-plant” but to do so under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) or another denomination for the same reasons.

Of course, some clergy have already left the Church of England, Scottish Episcopal Church or Church in Wales.  This film of the story of a man who left four and a half years ago has been watched a remarkable 26,000 times.



The Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa New Zealand (CCAANZ) is the equivalent Gafcon jurisdiction to ANiE in that country. At the heart of their decision to leave the Anglican Church of New Zealand (ACNZ) was the conviction that the “one generation strategy” was not biblical. Bishop Jay Behan has summed it up by saying that the gospel imperative is that we are “our brother’s keeper” and some of those brothers are in the generation to come and the ones after that.

For CCAANZ this principle has been embodied in the phrase “not just us; not just now”- that the solution for the orthodox must meet the needs of the most vulnerable and of multiple generations.

It meant the “fortress churches”- those big, wealthy and powerful enough to resist revisionism by pulling-up the drawbridge and defending the battlements - sacrificing their relative comfort to “come out” in support of those in less propitious circumstances.

Likewise, it meant those clergy who could otherwise probably see out their days in their existing post, or at least in some safer haven in the ACNZ, not doing so in favour of accepting the leadership role of creating the structures which future generations will require if they are to have an orthodox Anglican “home”.

Such gospel generosity required two other sacrifices - a willingness to work across “tribes” bounded only by all having to subscribe in good conscience to the Jerusalem Declaration - and therefore the concomitant requirement for all to compromise somewhere, even with regard to issues that might be very dear to them, in order to achieve the greatest possible degree of unity and respect the global consensus.

No one wants their beautiful flower arrangement to wilt, or for illness to be terminal, but pretending it is not so is no help to anyone.

In the meantime, the different Anglican futures will be being worked out:

Those who believe that the end has been reached have no choice but to pursue a future outside the CofE - anything else is unconscionable. Those who fear the “trajectory” argument is right, will be making preparations.  

To convince them otherwise, those who think this is doom-mongering and a “self-fulfilling prophesy” will need to make more compelling arguments - both for why the 'trajectory' argument is wrong and for how the longed for "structural settlement" can be achieved.

Email us your thoughts or comment below - Anglican Futures will happily host a blog that offers such an argument.

Thank you to Pop and Zebra from Unsplash.com for the image.

 

Close to the Edge is a fortnightly online gathering, hosted by Anglican Futures for those wishing to think more about the implications of blogs like this.

You can find out more details here https://www.anglicanfutures.org/events


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2 Comments


Guest
Apr 09

But beware of a mentality of "the worse, the better".

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Guest
Apr 10
Replying to

Do please elaborate!

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