In some Dioceses which perhaps are not unique, finances are in a parlous state.
Recession has taken funding out of giving and the Church is not seen to be universally relevant.
Countryside churches with small congregations are being threatened with possibly closure in their swathes, and God is threatened to be without a footprint outside main centres of popultation. With this comes private insularity and social decay. In rural areas, especially in the south east, congregations are typically over 50 and are drawn more from the female than the male populations, and less able to fund Church, Diocesan and national expenditure.
Large organisations such as the National Trust and educational institutions engage in significant marketing for people to leave them legacies, and the Church by withdrawing from income poor asset rich areas of the countryside by the closure of local churches is further continuing a downward spiral.
An examination of the accounts of a Diocese perhaps not untypical will show a spiral of shortfall with appeals to financially incapacitated congregations for ever yet more unaffordable giving, administrative juggling to save costs and encourage more efficient usage of resources, and an annual expenditure of more than double the shortfall on . . . church insurance.
Neither the Government nor the NHS insure their buildings.
As Christians, faced with a stark problem, perhaps there are areas of action and activity are worthy of review from the point of view of Christian teaching, and in my opinion, insurance is one of those.
Buying insurance is a buying of the hope of security and coming to fruition only if something happens. It is a delegation of responsibility from us, and the community, to someone else. It is an abrogation from our own power in the face of challenge to achieve given in favour of the magicman, the insurer, to do it for us. It is a purchase made in the luxury of the wish to buy comfort. Compared with the day to day issues of running churches, the primary realm of activity, it is in a secondary realm conditional upon events which have not happened.
For this reason I propose that expenditure on insurance should be secondary to the day to day running of the operation of Christianity through our churches and should not be purchased at the expense of closing churches. In the buying of insurance we are exchanging the certain closure of rural churches for only the possibility that without insurance there might be a possibility that a church cannot be replaced in the event of disaster. The exchange of certain closure for merely the uncertainty of a random closure seems to be rather a bad deal - a case of new lamps for old. We might well take the story of Aladdin to heart and keep our churches as in the past we always did, before the invention of insurance.
We might ask also whether insurance is good for our church and community life. With insurance paid, something happens, it gets reported to an agency and the insurers and the assumption is that life continues as usual, merely paid for by the small proportionate congregations through financial premiums.
Supportive congregations don't include the wider community who sees and feels no relevance of the church to them. Seeking support only from the supportive congregations to pay the bill of certainty is short-sighted and not bringing the work of God to work within our community.
There are many people who don't go to church, indeed who see organised religion as divisive and not to be encouraged, bad for community, however, who will support a building that represents an eternal symbol, a landmark, of time and place.
There are many people who will, when asked, join into a community effort, an effort rather than something merely representing funding. This brings community together and with purpose. This is the work of God.
If buildings are listed, then English Heritage are empowered to give grant funding to repair and restoration projects, especially where a building is architecturally or historically important. If a community benefit is involved, then a charity can apply for National Lottery funding, and other charitable organisations can act in a supporting role.
For these reasons then, funds devoted to certainty of peace of administrative minds independent of community spirit and to certainty of church closures on account of expense are better devoted to the primary activity of the church. In the event of disaster, it is the call from neighbours to raise help for the beleaguered in distress, and the building of Guildford Cathedral in modern times in the last century, with great efforts funding the building of a new cathedral brick by brick with great faith, commitment and effort, is a model for 21st century Christianity.
Cathedrals were not built with insurance.
Meanwhile the funds saved from insurance can fund further clergy or increase the salaries of existing clergy to take on the roles of higher responsibility and community support that perhaps they did in the past, or to roll out wider support for projects such as The Cinnamon Network http://www.cinnamonnetwork.co.uk/
which perhaps formalises into a structure areas of work that the Church should be taking on naturally.
Finally we have to address the issue of the reasons why the Church is not perceived to be relevant in our society. The Cinnamon Network is a game-changing initiative, but in being confined to Christianity does not expand the work of God throughout our communities.
A wonderful and inspiring initiative exists at one of the country's major airports, Gatwick Airport, which has a non-denominational chapel in which all who believe in God the Creator in His various forms and colours work and worship together. A striking feature of prayers pyblished by the Chapel http://www.gatwickairportchapel.org/t-prayers.htm
is the manner in which all of us can share in so much together. Personally in sharing taxi rides with drivers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Shri Lanka, in discussing faith we tend to find that we share so much in our fundamentals and understanding of the Creator.
It's too easy for the Church either to retreat into an island of its own, or to feel the need to evangelise. But between the two, expanding populations and increasing proportions of those of non-British descent to whom the work of the Church is irrelevant provide the most wonderful of opportunities.
The world faces disorder, disharmony and destruction as a result of people not working together, not understanding the world of God, and ultimately the human race faces extinction as a result of war with each other, and war with our planet.
The heritage of prescriptive rule teachings do little for people who don't see a point in obeying ther rules or for people who consider rules to be there to be rebelled against rather than in any way the reasons for which should be understood. This is the beauty of our heritage of Jesus' teachings, teaching us how to think as Christians rather than what to do as Levites or Pharisees. It is in this that we can show others who follow also the Abrahamic religions how Jesus' wisdom is wonderful, following the Islamic injunction to fight that which is bad by that which is better.
The significant numbers proportionately of those nominally devoted to Islam in our prisons is evidence of the manner in which the prescriptive rule-based manifestation of faith is not ministering to so much of our population and our communities, and causing some to retreat into further and stricter islands of literal fundamentalism, in common with those of other religions in unease at similar phenonomae.
As Christians we have been seduced and subliminally diverted by linguistics, so easily misconstrued out of context as in the contrast between Philippians 2 and Romans 14
"At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow"
rather than in the voice speaking as God:
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God."
Linguistically softened, it's too easy to misinterpret the second line of the Prayer that Jesus taught us:
"Hallowed be thy Name"
The Name that Jesus was teaching to hold Hallowed was not the name Jesus.
Many people do not understand now the meaning of the word Hallowed and perhaps it's helpful for the purpose of finding our place in society, our community, humanity, our world, to examine what Jesus was teaching us in this most sacred and fundamental sequences of words and concepts.
In speaking with evangelists who worthily come and doorstep in pairs to bring the word of God to communities, my personal experience is that they misconstrue the word "Hallowed" within the context of Phillipians 2, thinking that all the world should greet Jesus and say "Hello" . . .
Jesus' teaching was much more profound, that the _name_ of God should be held sacred.
The manifestation of this holds only to to many to the relevance of people not taking the Lord's name in vain, and misses the point.
Thomas Cahill in his book "The Gifts of the Jews" points to the real meaning. Sacred, being the name of God, feared, a sound that one did not enunciate, was the Name of God. There had always been in many religions an injunction against evoking the name of the Almighty, the All Powerful, the Creator and Destroyer. And thus, when through our mouths we breathe in, and breathe out, in a quiet place, we hear the name of God. AAAAH (W)HAARE . . . . and so we find to describe the sound, the name of God Yahweh. It's a description of the sound. "In the beginning was the word . . . " - Word - sound - intelligence - life. This prayer is about the worship of Life. The God of Life. That which gives life. Perhaps instead of AAAAH AAIRE you might hear AAAH AAAAH. Our lives are so polluted by sound that perhaps few of us have noticed these sounds, that we take for granted, hear, and do all the time.
Perhaps many of us might have enjoyed in the past going to MaJorca . . . and then found the fashion to write it MaLLorca and to say it as Mayyorca, the LL being unprounounced.
And so in our prayer holding sacred the sound of the name of God AAAH AAAH we can find life in the worship of the God of Life, that which brings life to us and our brothers and sisters of A**AH. In this is the secret of the Gatwick Airport chapel, ministering to all, to all of our community of God.
As soon as we say this name, whatever it is, we obliterate the sound of life, the sound, the word of God.
Perhaps in the special words that Jesus taught us, we can for all combine in the ancient aspiration of the joining of earth and heaven in the understanding of the God of Life, now, for all, in this life, and following the instruction of how to do it:
Our Origins, which are in Paradise
Sacred - feared and unspoken be your Name
Your Kingdom of Paradise come, your Will to bring Paradise be done on earth as it is in the Paradise we know in our minds
Give us our daily bread (food for the mind - food for the body, that which body and mind need together)
Forgive us our wrong steps as we forgive the wrong steps of others against us
Lead us not into temptation to do things contrary to the bringing of Paradise on Earth
Deliver us from those who do not understand and situations where God the Creator is not understood.
This is a mantra for all, the aspiration of all humanity given to us by one blessed with the infinite.
It is in this way that in areas of expanding populations, the Church of God can minister far and wide to all who come, sharing in the understanding of the god of Life, that which by which all is created.
The bringing of multi-faith places of worship into our communities can enable the word of God to minister to all. The ministry of the Gatwick Airport Chapel is a shining example. Expanding such work will set the Church in the driving seat of community relevance, of all communities, bring funding from Lottery sources and wider, harness enthusiasms and rekindle the work of God of Life throughout humanity, relevant to all.
For the whole of my adult life the Church has been bemoaning declining support. Jesus said to the invalid of 29 years "Get up and walk!". It is now time for the Church to do so.
With the gift of Jesus in understanding of the God of Life, the breath of life, that which gives life, the Church is empowered to bring life to all communities, and doesn't have to wait for the magicman to do it for it.
With best wishes