The pace of change in the Church of England is picking up speed. For good or ill the effects of the pandemic have exacerbated this. There is no reason why most people would follow the church press but the latest edition of the Church Times reports that 27 out of the 42 dioceses in England are running deficit budgets, some are close to financial collapse. At a very sobering deanery synod meeting last month we learned that our own diocese sits pretty well near the bottom of every league table going: numbers in churches, numbers of young people or children attending, levels of financial giving and percentages of the overall population attending worship.
There is a plan. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ and so we are told that for good or ill, the Church Commissioners investments will be directed most especially towards parishes and projects that show signs of hope and growth. The flip side of this choice being that many ‘less successful’ or smaller parishes may well end up being under-resourced. It is increasingly likely that parishes will merge, much loved buildings close, numbers of stipendiary priest will continue to fall (though the numbers of ordinations is increasing as people are appointed to self-supporting positions).
At a diocesan level Durham and Newcastle Dioceses have worked together for many years. Nationally there is a move towards merging dioceses so that ‘back office’ functions can be carried out more efficiently. The Church Commissioners are now offering each diocese money to enable them to reshape the way ministry is offered so that we can continue to serve the people of England.
I confess that I am yet to be convinced about much that is proposed but in this context of change it is encouraging to see any number of signs of life coming to fruition in our common life here in the parish as we seek to learn what it is to be a ‘missional church’. Through pastoral care, music, Eco Church, heritage, school’s work and the like the people of God in this place are rising to the challenge of working for the good of all in Jesus’ name. We are seeing new faces attend worship and offering their support. It may well seem that ‘change and decay’ are all around but we are a people of hope, God is faithful and it is He who has called us to walk into His preferred and promised future. I’m excited as to what God has in store for us.