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The Renewal of the Parish1 year ago
An article by Christopher Landau from the ReSource Autumn 2021 Newsletter
The Renewal of the Parish
The parish has become political in the Church of England – and this presents a fascinating opportunity for ReSource. Who would have thought that the backbone of English community life for centuries, epitomised by the existence of an often historic Anglican place of worship, would now be called into question so publicly – and its future debated so forcefully? The debate may not be new, in that Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank’s book ‘For the Parish’, critiquing the Fresh Expressions movement, was published in 2010; but it is this summer that has seen renewed examination of central church planting strategies, the launch of a ‘Save the Parish’ campaign ahead of elections to General Synod, and even the emergence of a new Twitter account, ‘Love the Parish’, celebrating parochial life. It might be tempting to see these debates largely as political campaigns for influence within the church’s decision-making structures, in response to a perception that the church hierarchy has lost faith in the parish system. But I think we need to consider the spiritual questions that underpin both the arguments themselves, and the way they are being conducted.
A new harvest of the fruit of the Spirit
As someone who grew up in the traditional parish system, but whose faith came alive in a network-originated church plant, I know about the strengths and weaknesses of both. But what I have come to lament are the levels of mutual suspicion and misunderstanding between the different tribes and traditions of the church – these truly represent a ‘limiting factor’ to the church’s mission. Indeed, these are very much the questions I considered in my doctoral research, published a few months ago by SCM Press as ‘A Theology of Disagreement’. It seems to me that only a new harvest of the fruit of the Spirit will begin to heal the tensions that exist as the Church agonises over its future direction. We desperately need more peace, forbearance, kindness, gentleness and self-control – to name a few choice fruit – in our public debates.
The art of Parish renewal
If a spiritual remedy is needed for how we face disagreements about the future of the parish, it is also primarily a spiritual renewal that is needed in many parishes themselves. Earlier this year, the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, offered three striking proposals in a blog entitled ‘The Primacy of the Parish’. First, we should trust the local; second, the reality of failure should be addressed. His third point resonated deeply for me:
‘...we need to learn the art of Parish renewal. There are many schemes to train pioneers who can start something from nothing, and they have an important part to play. But what most dioceses need above all is priests and lay leaders who can renew an existing Parish, who can lead tired laity to deeper conversion, who can draw new people into relationship with Jesus Christ…’
I find these stirring and prophetic words. They are words that speak of why Anglican Renewal Ministries was first called into being – and they are, surely, words that continue to describe so much of ReSource’s work fostering renewal for mission in little, local, and ordinary parish churches.
A bearer of hope
There are more than enough doomsayers in the church, and as your incoming director I do not propose to join their ranks. Instead, I believe that ReSource is called to be a bearer of hope, rooted in our delight in the work of the Holy Spirit to enliven the driest of bones. No parish is too small, too remote, or too overlooked to benefit from the Spirit’s refreshing work. What a privilege for us to pray for and encourage this work of renewal in churches across the country.
The Revd Dr Christopher Landau Director of ReSource
Download the entire Autumn Newsletter HERE