The Church of England is a place of privilege: the Established Church of a nation, represented within the legislative framework and in places of influence where it can matter. Simply by having Parishes in every corner of the nation, the Church has public opportunities and a visible symbol of Christian witness in its Churches and Priests.
It carries with that privilege, a serious set of responsibilities: to hold the pastoral needs of everyone within a locality to its bosom, not just those who opt into it; to speak out on behalf of those who have no power or influence, out of estates on the edge of cities and small rural communities; to walk with the public at times of national or local tragedy (such as the shooting in Keyham in Plymouth) and support the grief (as well as the joy) of a community in need. It also shoulders the burden of maintaining buildings built long ago, loved and treasured, but no longer viable as communities have changed and medieval churches are no longer at the heart of where people live.
Yet, this reflection does not call for widespread closure, nor the centralization of resources into monocultural clones of successful West London Churches, but a recognition that the Word of God is alive and active in all communities, and the work of the Holy Spirit does not conform to the earthly Church’s attempts to manage and control it. Growth can come in the most unlikely places and with the most unlikely people. Even in the midst of what might appear to be the dead wood of a Church that cannot pay its parish share and in this post-COVID period appears frail and under-resourced, the rumour of God persists in prayer and sacrament, in lived and shared experience. in grief, and in joy.
Do not be tempted to look at the spaces in the pews and think yourself a failing priest, but give thanks that in your ministry the green shoots of the Holy Spirit are nurtured, as word and sacrament waters what might be seen as barren. God has not given up on you.
Do not give up looking for the signs of the Spirit in your community.