The Church-is-people people

The word of the Lord endures for ever. And how different is that permanence compared to our own changing words. Even the clearest and most straightforward truth we can express will crumble faster than we ever imagine.

It is so obvious a statement that we no longer care to question it, nor require any corroboration, for we all know that the biggest financial burden on a small rural parish is its medieval church building. It may be a Grade 1 historic monument, the oldest structure in the village, a glorious work of art and faith, but it costs too much to maintain for its small congregation, and has become the principal burden on this embattled remnant of faithful Christians.

Just as obvious and universally accepted is the truth that follows from this (logically, inexorably and irrefutably) namely that the Church is not about buildings, it is about people. If, therefore, we could only focus our commitment on people rather than buildings, we said to ourselves, we should begin to solve our problems and be invigorated by a new and more fruitful challenge for the Gospel.

And so we did. Only to find that our word, in which we trusted, has not endured. What we once knew as self-evident truth is no more. Subtly and secretly, it has metamorphosed into a hideous parody.

In this unremarkable corner of England, we have a fine Norman church, we also have a parish with fewer inhabitants than when that church was built, and only about a third of the number when it was restored in the nineteenth century. Maintenance is indeed a problem.

But a far, far greater problem is the new Church-is-people burden we have acquired over the past couple of decades. The diocesan taxation taken from us year by year, not for clergy or their parsonages, but for the ministry of non-parochial church people (ordained and lay) now far exceeds the long term average cost of the building’s care and repair.

It is not our worn and ancient stones that overwhelm us, but living, modern people (who have never seen us and whom we shall never see) who grind us down. If it were wickedness, we could bear it; but it is the new Gospel truth, and it is this which is hard to bear.

NT

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