I would appreciate help in finding elements of an answer David Llewellyn Dodds’ question “Without giving undue weight to the matter, I would be interested in knowing the membership/average attendance numbers of the seven Continuing Churches being discussed, should they be available“.
The thought that usually lies behind such questions is “Everybody’s doing it, so it must be right” or that numbers give credibility. It is often an argument used by converts to Roman Catholicism seeking validation in their choice. Mr Llewellyn Dodd has always been rather more interested in things from an academic point of view and is discreet about his personal life and choices, so there is no finger pointing towards him. On the contrary, I appreciate and esteem his precious input.
Should we become Roman Catholics following the example of John Bruce and others, and put social conformity before everything, or knuckle up under the other mainstream denominations on pretext of their being more numerous and wealthy? The question might evoke self-justification or anger, but I put it rhetorically in this reflection. There are many justifications to any choice, but very few from more personal considerations such as belief or taste. If we English-speaking people seek the truth in the majority, then the “truth” is atheism and “post-modernity” (nihilism).
Various bits of information can be found about statistics in the Church of England, the American Episcopal Church and Roman Catholicism in the white Anglo-Saxon world and Europe. Figures are plummeting. Any kind of church-going is marginal and goes against acceptable social mores.
More evangelism? What is evangelism? – a sort of door-to-door marketing strategy (or by telephone) that invades people’s lives and make them ever more sick and tired? What about downsizing the church institutions, merge dioceses and parishes? The result is that no one knows where services can be found on any given Sunday, and they give up. More meetings? How boring!
The reality seems to be that decline is not due to liberalism per se, because the conservatives and traditionalists do little better. Roman Catholicism seems to do better because of ethnical groups like Latins, Asians and Africans. Those groups are less interested in endless meetings and wasting money – bureaucracy. Continuing Churches are not (yet) blighted by bureaucracy and idiotocracy! Like Anglicanism in the USA and the UK, French Roman Catholicism is overburdened with infrastructures for which no one is paying. I have had the impression for years that it’s all over, at least for the self-serving bureaucracy and the lovely parish churches which are locked and rotting. The real question is coming to the realisation that everything has to be let go, and then rebuild from scratch.
Another problem is internal conflict, which turns most of us away. This question is highly significant in the recent concordat of unity between the four Anglo-Catholic continuing Churches. Will that reverse the damage done by the conflicts since the Affirmation of St Louis through to the present day? The ACC’s diocese in England was nearly annihilated, and despite Bishop Mead’s professionalism and inspiring spiritual leadership, the rebuilding work is accepted only timidly.
Our Christian faith tells us that the Church is indefectible and cannot die, but that promise of Christ does not extend to the institutions we know. The Church is north Africa, where St Augustine had his diocese, is gone. Only ruins remain and those entire regions are Muslim. A few Christians live in those countries and survive, so this can be seen as evidence of that indefectibility in spite of the loss of the visible structures that one existed.
I don’t think we have got to the bottom of all the reasons why Christianity is in decline. There is also the diminishing rate in Causasian populations. There is doubtless the influence of feminist and homosexual movements, but their repression would do little for institutional Christianity.
Liberal = decline and conservative = growth seems somewhat simplistic and unrealistic. RC traditionalism and fundamentalist Protestatism in America also seem to be in decline.
We continuing Anglicans cannot afford to be smug, not that I have seen any such smugness. There are certain ideas of interest in Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, though some are more appropriate for North America than Europe. I see the importance of creating situations in which Christian families can avoid being invaded and eroded by secularist “political correctness”. That would be difficult because of the children’s need for education and social interaction outside the family. It is important to create places of worship where Mass and Office are offered whether or not there are any people in the congregation. Is there a form of monasticism that can be adapted to lay people and secular priests who are not living in a clerical or religious community? There must be some way that the Church can live in “survival mode”.
I have always been against “marketing”, which means that we have to accept living in a secular world whose ethics and values are not ours. Our life will be like the persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire or the Soviet Union, purified by fire and kept alive by priorities being in the right places. I read elsewhere there that man is at his least creative when he is comfortable. Synthesis, as Hegel taught, comes from the interaction of thesis and antithesis, a certain amount of conflict and dialogue. This is also important – not the nastiness – but the interaction of opposing ideas to create new knowledge.
I believe this to be the role of our continuing Churches, regardless of how few we are.