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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Threat of Extinction of the Anglican Church: leading bishop says either evangelize or fossilize

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The stark warning issued by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, this week that the Anglican Church would be extinct in a generation, has opened up the intellectual, not necessarily the spiritual, debate about the influence – and the relevance - of once-powerful institution in the lives of indigenous majority of modern Britain.

“'We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are one generation away from extinction – if we do not invest in young people there is going to be no one in the future,” said Lord Carey in a church conference held in Shrewsbury, England. The frank admission shows that Dr Carey, who led the Church of England up until 2002, is prepared to accept his share of the blame for the inability of the institution to reverse the trend.

The Most Reverend John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, was even more blunt in his assessment about the failures. While addressing the General Synod where the bishops debate on appointing women bishops, he partially recognized the problem: “the need is attracting new worshipers; everything else is like re-arranging furniture when house is on fire,” said the outspoken bishop while venting out his frustration.

Dr Sentamu went on to say that the hierarchy of the Church often argued over the words and phrases while the people of England are left floundering amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair. “Evangelize or fossilize,” warned the Archbishop of York, without mincing his words while winding up his address to the Synod.

The number of churchgoers in Britain has gone down by 10% during the past decade and the tendency shows no sign of abating despite the regular arrival of what the Archbishop of York pertinently described as ‘words and phrases’ that stemmed from fierce debates. The number of churches that have been put up for sale is one clear external manifestation of the trend.

The challenges faced by the Anglican Church in Britain have been grabbing headlines for the past few years. This, however, is the first time that the leading figures of the Church collectively raised the spectre of what they recognize as the looming ‘extinction eventuality’. Moreover, they admit that the measures they took in the past to attract more worshippers and retain those who still visit churches have dismally failed. In this context, it is very noble of the bishops to blame it on themselves rather than the disgruntled worshippers – or even the society.

Dr Carey may be right in prophesizing the fate of the national institution that he once led, while referring to the dwindling numbers of churchgoers as an unambiguous indicator. That does not mean the Christianity as a faith is on the brink of extinction in Britain, though.

Despite the depressingly gloomy observations, there are churches which not only have buckled the trend but also have flourished significantly in independent manner. The expansion of Pentecost Church and the Catholic Church is a case in point. In addition, there are small churches which thrive along ethnic lines.

If the Church of England makes a clear distinction between the successful churches and itself on the ground of denomination as usual, it does very little to diminish the threat of extinction. On the contrary, it opens up another front to escalate the vulnerability.

The good news is that there is a star to look up to, if the Anglican Church really wants to get the worshippers back to their half-empty church halls, while temporary abandoning the rigid dogma in favour of pragmatism - Pope Francis.

The charismatic leader of the Catholic Church, through what is known as Francis Effect, is attracting the faithful back to the church in millions. In Britain, the increase is said to be 20% in eight months – since his appointment as the Pope. There are similar growths in the rest of Europe, Latin America and the USA.

Through public acts of humility, Pope Francis has become a monument to compassion while pulling down a series of barriers that stood between the Head of Catholic Church and the faithful in quick succession.

If Pope Francis could restore the reputation of the Catholic Church, which had faced endless paedophile and corruption scandals, in just eight months, there is no reason for the Anglican Church to be so downbeat about its future - and in the absence of similar things even on a mini scale. It, however, must recognise the urgent need of a very good shepherd at its apex in order to provide the anxious flock with an inspirational lead.

It, according to spiritually-emboldened Catholics owing to Francis Effect, can only be brought about by divine intervention, not by ballots cast by men in heavy costumes.

- Asian Tribune -

Threat of Extinction of the Anglican Church: leading bishop says either evangelize or fossilize
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