Saturday, 5 August 2017

Saving the church, blessing the people

He's a bishop with backbone and he's got a passionate concern that the Church does not give up taking the Gospel to the poorest people in the country.

In a widely shared talk, first given at New Wine this summer, Philip North (left), the Bishop of Burnley, asks why the church appears to be turning away from the poor, and pouring resources in ministry to the better-off part of society:

“…in the poorest parts of the country, we are withdrawing the preachers. The harvest is rich, but the labourers have been re-deployed to wealthier areas. We are seeing the slow and steady withdrawal of church life from those communities where the poorest people in our nation live"

 “…Nationally we spend £8 per head of population on ministry. In some rural areas that figure rises to £24 per head. On the estates we spend just £5 per head, by far the lowest. The poorer you are, the less the church values you"

“…If you go to a suburban church you will usually find a comfortable and well maintained building with carpets, heating, clean toilets and good music. Estates churches rarely have the money to maintain themselves properly. If you’re poor all you’re worth is a cold and half derelict building"

I think the Bishop is spot on in his diagnosis of the situation and I love his answer to the problem - though this will take a miracle to achieve, and an Act of Repentance by the institutional church which in all kinds of ways has done the very opposite of this in the last fifteeen years or so (but we do believe in miracles so that's OK):

“…We need to raise up leaders in, for and from the urban church. The best person to speak the Gospel into an urban estate is someone who has grown up there, so we need to be courageous and take risks in raising up a local leadership. Catapulting in 200 white, well-educated, beautiful people from the nice bit of town will dispossess and disempower local residents. The impact will be to take their church away from them such that the church will become just another service provided on their behalf by patronising outsiders. In the Church of England our current structures for selecting and training licensed lay or ordained leaders are woefully unfit for purpose and deliver only white, graduate class leaders. The time for tolerating this systemic failure is now over. We must take risks in raising up local leadership, leadership that cannot and will not speak the jargon-laden drivel of the contemporary church but will instead have the Gospel energy to transform it"

 O Lord, have mercy upon us.

PS The whole talk is worth reading. You can view it here

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