The small lay church
In a final extract from the Evangelism Working Party report Philip North returns to the need for renewal among the laity and the importance of venturing into new, risk-taking areas
So far we have discussed doing what we do at present but doing it in a more evangelistically aware way. But we need to go even further, into uncomfortable, risk-taking areas. Anglo-Catholics seem to have a terrible fear of risk-taking, and indeed there seems to be a tendency to mock or undermine any new or creative evangelistic method.
Why, for example, are there so few Catholic church plants when Holy Trinity Brompton alone is planting one every six months? Do we lack the resources? Do we lack the confidence? Are our own churches so small that we cannot bear to lose any people to plant a church elsewhere? Or are we just afraid that it will go wrong, afraid of failure and the mockery that will follow?
We have left the work of planting churches and experimenting with new forms of church life (such as the cell) to Evangelicals, nervous that any departure from the pattern of church life with which we are familiar is somehow un-Catholic. Our critique of these Fresh Expressions has often been that, because they are not eucharistic, they are not church'. Our response needs to be a readiness to experiment with new forms of eucharistic community, with youth congregations and cells. We need to have the courage to re-set the jewels of the Catholic tradition in such a way that we can connect with a generation who have no knowledge of the church and its worship.
Many Anglo-Catholic parishes grow to about 100 communicants and then stagnate. The problem is that a priest-centred model of pastoral care prevents growth beyond the size where the clergy can know every member of the congregation by name.
To build strong churches we need to create within them smaller units of belonging in order that pastoral care can be shared with lay people. A traditional Anglo-Catholic technique has been to use devotional groups such as Cells of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham or of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament to achieve this. Other parishes will need to experiment with house groups or even with a transition to a cell-based model of belonging. There is Catholic precedent for this in the Base Communities of South America.
Nonetheless the heart of the parish community will remain the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. Nothing we have read convinces members of the working party that the loss of Sunday is anything but a disaster for evangelization. But with fewer priests and the cost of maintaining historic buildings, we shall surely see fewer Sunday celebrations, but ones which are larger and better resourced with people travelling. Continuing pastoral care, growth and nurture will then be provided in the local group, meeting during the week; often these groups will be lay-led 'Communities of the Word' gathered around the Scriptures rather than the Eucharist.
Insome dioceses, where Anglo-Catholic parishes are thin on the ground, a retired or non-stipendiary priest will have a travelling ministry, presiding at the Eucharist for these groups from time to time. It is to be hoped that the new Church Planting Regulations before Synod will be seen as applying to these groups as well.
Using the new media
We are living at a time of unbelievably fast change. Most young people when seeking information about any aspect of their life will now go first to the internet; when they want to seek opinions they will go to Facebook or Myspace. It is not enough to use the new media simply as an additional means of communicating the Gospel. We actually need to evangelize the culture that those new media have brought about. The message needs to be integrated into that new culture.
There are many ways in which we can use the new media to advance the evangelistic work of the Church and we need to be creative and energetic in advancing them. Many churches have websites, many are building a presence on social interaction websites, and this can all be done fairly easily. The important point is that, if this is to be done at all, it must be done well. There are few things as shoddy as a parish website advertising the date of the Christmas Fayre for 2004 or a data projector breaking down before a Youth Mass. This is an area where the use of skilled lay people is vital.
Good preaching is an absolutely essential part of evangelization. When done well it can evangelize, renew, nurture and feed. However, the arrival of mass media and the slick styles of communication seen on radio and television make the preachers art even harder.
It is no longer any good to expect congregations to have the discipline to sit and listen to dusty homilies. Preachers need to learn to adjust to changing times. They need to answer the right questions and communicate in a style that captures the imagination, making good use of story and illustration.
Few priests have received thorough training in homiletics, and once in the parish there are few opportunities for feedback or further formation. We would suggest that clergy and lay preachers are given regular opportunities for training and peer review of their preaching techniques. We long for a return of the days when the Anglo-Catholic movement provided the finest preachers in the land.
Whenever evangelization is discussed, people begin to feel inadequate or guilty. Many priests and lay people feel genuinely depressed at the decline of their congregations and bewildered at what to do about it. Many Anglo-Catholic parishes are located in areas of acute social deprivation where 'success' needs to be measured in terms very different from bums on pews. However we believe that, in the new evangelization, there are techniques that any parish serious about renewal can use in order to sharpen its evangelistic ministry.
Over and again members of the working party, and those we have consulted, have made it clear that it is with the renewal of the laity that evangelization begins. The parishes that develop lay ministry are the parishes that grow. It is when we can unlock the clerical stranglehold and let the gifts of our laypeople flourish that renewal will come. This takes great risk on the part of clergy and people alike, but if we are unable to take that risk, then the free province will be nothing but a paper dream and the Anglo-Catholic movement nothing but a footnote in the ecclesiastical history books.
Return to Home Page of This Issue
Return to Trushare Home Page