In a pair of recent posts (Part I
, Part II
) I argued that many of us have lost our faith in large institutions. We increasingly feel ill-used by our employers and ill-served by our elected representatives. More troubling still, many of us have also lost faith in faith-based organizations. In this regard, the Church of England (CoE) stands as Exhibit A. Founded 476 years ago when King Henry VIII broke with papal authority, the Church of England has in recent years been fractured by a contentious dispute over the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. As thorny as that issue may be, it is not the most vexing problem facing the “mother church” of the worldwide Anglican Communion.Today, less than 3%
of the British population attends a Church of England service in a typical month—this according to a recent CoE report
. That’s down by nearly 50% from 1968
. A survey by Tearfun
d, a Christian charity, found that a third of Britain’s population is now “de-churched.” These are former parishioners who no longer attend weekly services. The fact that more than 50% of UK residents still describe themselves as Christians makes the decline of Britain’s “established” church all the more perplexing. As one website
put it, “If the Church of England was the national football team, we would have sacked the manager long ago.”The fact is, the Church of England has become irrelevant to most British citizens. At this point I should declare a personal interest. During the ten years I lived in the UK, I frequently attended an Anglican church just outside of London. I enjoyed the energetic singing and the thoughtful homilies. And yet, I found it easy to be a pew warmer, a consumer, a back row critic. After all, the only thing the vicar seemed to want from me was a kind heart and a generous hand. Like the other congregants, I was asked to donate time and money to the church’s programs—and that was it. None of the clergy seemed eager for me, or others, to actually take the initiative and start something. I was never challenged to lead—only to “serve.” If it sounds like I’m justifying my indolence, I am—but it’s hard to get excited when there’s little scope for initiative, or when the categories of contribution have already been defined by others. Though inclined to faith, I struggled to find my niche in a top-down, pulpit-led model of “church”—and still do. In this regard I’m not alone—well, not if the experience of Drew Williams is anything to go by.