I WAS travelling home after staying a couple of days with an old friend in a distant cathedral city. Both retired, we chewed the fat, raking over the ruins of the Anglican project trying to discern where any meaningful future life and ministry lay for the orphaned orthodox of a vanished dispensation.
By a curious coincidence the new Dean of the cathedral had been announced only a couple of hours ago. Suddenly there he was on the train a few feet from me struggling down the aisle with his overnight bag. I smiled at him and mouthed ‘Congratulations.’ ‘My God, you’re in the swim,, he muttered with a grin as he shot past and fled several carriages down the train. We had worked for the same boss, some years apart, a long time ago. Our paths had diverged, his in keeping with the new Church of England, the institutional mainline, mine on the old tracks to a little considered branch line and now the terminus. He was a nice man, good company, competent, energetic, a considerable improvement on many recent appointments. He will have known, better than me, the monumental task, in every sense, he was taking on. Not only would he inherit a near bankrupt major heritage site, but he would be taking on the system of management designed by his predecessor, who had never managed anything successfully except his own promotion, and the shattered morale of the staff who had somehow survived him. I did not envy him.
Yet his task differed little in essentials from that of thousands of parish priests. Like them, should he succeed in reviving the institution, it would, on present evidence, prove largely irrelevant to the future of the Christian faith in these lands. Less and less people want the modernist ‘product’. More and more people reject the new Cof E ‘brand’. I opened my newspaper. The church census results were in. Electoral rolls were down 12% since 1996. Sunday attendances dropped 4% over the last year. A spokesperson said, ‘There are signs of growth in church attendance.’ Next to me a man was reading a book on ethics. The woman opposite was doing her accounts and her companion was playing patience. Not Anglican spokespersons, obviously.