Disestablishment (the King Charles’ head of Colin Buchanan) looks as if it is drawing ever closer. In a government White Paper Civil Registration, Vital Change, published January 22 2002, the following words appear: ‘In its consultation document Supporting Families, the Government recognised the potential for, and the benefits of, the registration service adopting a wider role through the provision of information on support and advisory services relating to key life events and providing celebratory services.’
‘Services’, I suppose, has always been a double entrendre; but never in quite this way. The Paper goes on: ‘Baby naming ceremonies can provide an alternative to christening or other forms of religious dedication … the Government will expect local providers to ensure that a baby naming service is available … Some couples wish to celebrate key wedding anniversaries by reaffirming their marriage vows. The Government supports the provision of secular marriage reaffirmation ceremonies and will expect local providers to ensure such ceremonies are available…’
All this raises some fairly basic questions. Why, for example, should a Government, which is effectively going into competition with its Established Church, nevertheless retain ultimate control of the law, doctrine and liturgy of that Church?
But there are questions for the Church, too. After decades of genuflection to secular mores in its marriage doctrine and in its conduct of baptisms and funerals, is there anything distinctive enough about the Church of England’s current practice to enable it to sustain its market share against orchestrated Government competition?
The CofE has dumbed down its Christianity in precisely the areas in which the Government is now aiming to be a principal ‘service’ provider, simply because it thought itself obliged, by statute, to minister to the whole community. How tragic if the Church of England’s target audience in the provision of these services moves now to another (and more prestigious) provider, and the Church is left without even the Christian doctrines that were once seen as the raison d’être of these ‘services’!