Monday, June 18, 2012

Diocese near 'Collapse'?

Back to the blog after weeks and now on a Monday (day-off of course) I'm trying to string some thoughts together in the light of the week just past.  The headline on the front page of the ODT and the Saturday editorial that followed it up have certainly put the 'little enemy' (as I am told Anglicans used to be called here)  in the news - though probably not quite as we'd have liked.  Well done however to Bishop Kelvin for telling it as it is. Dropping attendances and declining finances are all part of our post-Christian context but the consequences of the Christchurch earthquake (massive re-insurance costs, earthquake strengthening) have forced us to face the questions that have been with us for years.  Remember that change-management maxim, 'never waste a good crisis'?  It's good to see that we're not!

In the Archdeaconry meeting last week it was fascinating to hear how some worthy folk talked about our church buildings - as if they were hindrances to our 'mission'.  Of course there may be instances in which that is actually the case but I am unimpressed with the way the word 'mission' is generally bandied about.  It is a portmanteau of a word and as variable to fashions and shifts in meaning as the changes in our southern lights. Sometimes mission is simply 'being present' - and that is what we need to remember about our buildings - at their best they are signs and even 'sacraments' of presence, signs of the numinous in the midst of a society that has been drained of the sacred.  That is one aspect of mission.

But of course this is certainly not an argument that every church should be kept: it is merely a caution not to operate with a facile polarisation of mission or buildings. I think the truth is that we are probably 'over-churched' and some rationalisation of our buildings, while painful, could be productive. In the ODT this morning the report on the Presbyterian's sale of their redundant Roslyn church is an example of what we may have to do - I pray that we may do this well.

I have heard gloomy prophecies of congregations vacating their buildings as they fail the required safety standard: well I'm not so sure of the sense of that and hope we can ask some fundamental questions and test the assumptions.  Here in most of Dunedin and much of the South, the earthquake risk today is no greater than it was decades ago.  Certainly our buildings may not survive a major quake but they may already have lasted ninety or so years.  Rather than seeing our churches as a problem or (worse) as a block to our mission, we now have an opportunity for dialogue with councils and government on how to preserve our best - even to have such conversations in the community is itself an activity that has something of the missional about it.  In the sharing and the listening - who knows what we may discover?

The ODT editorial on Saturday 16 June tackled the deeper question of the post-Christian  environment and pondered how the church can become again 'relevant' in our society.  For goodness sake: who or what determines relevance?   What measures might one use?   For instance, in a time when market forces seem to be taking over our assumed values and the importance of the human is being diminished accordingly, the church has an especially critical role as a counter-cultural presence and accordingly must ask the questions, challenge what is happening and work for a better society. In word, in deed and just by our presence - I think we do that.  Does that make us relevant?  Who decides?  Those ancient gospel images for mission - salt, light - keep pressing at the back of my mind.

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