Simon Morris continues his reflections on mission and mission churches
One of the things that rubbed off from my training incumbent was constantly being in a state
of looking to what the next project is without having really finished the current one. Such a state of mind is, I fear, integral to growing churches. It keeps people interested and encourages a sense of liveliness in the faith to which we have been called.
Easter IV – Good Shepherd Sunday – will be our patronal festival with the Bishop of Edmonton coming. I hope to present at least one person for Confirmation and have two who would like to renew their confirmation promises. The classes will run during Lent.
I haven’t really mentioned the Boys’ Brigade. It’s part of the fabric of life at St Mary’s and so we opened a new section of it at the Good Shepherd. Four boys have enrolled so far, with another one dropping in and out. Currently, this is only for children in years 4–6 at school but from September this will be expanded to include children in years 1–3.
There are still issues that need resolving: some of the decor needs finishing; a sound system will need to be installed for us to be able to push the congregational numbers up beyond the 20–30 mark; there’s no Sunday school currently and that needs to be resolved. At the moment our music provision is by-and-large CD based (we cannot afford an organist); perhaps that needs to change.
To some extent, the growth process will be affected by issues of interregnum too, but that is out of my control. The new incumbent will pretty soon after arriving need to think about raising enough money for a new roof, which I would estimate as being about £100k.
What does this mean for me?
Now entering the insecurity of much of modern Christianity, I wanted to try and relate what this might mean to you. You may be thinking ‘I haven’t got a redundant church to open up’; ‘I haven’t got a spare £200k to do up the old hall to make a new worship space.’ You may even be thinking, surely the last thing the Church should be doing is re-opening churches it hasn’t needed for the last 50 years.
I’d like to make two initial comments before trying to make this relevant to you. First, the Diocese of London has struck up a partnership with the Open University to create a project, ‘Building on History.’ It seeks to examine thoroughly the history of individual churches in the diocese and through that to understand better the problems that face the Church. For example, three years ago I arrived in a parish which used to have two churches and only had one now, which was never full.
Learning the history
The Building on History project seeks to add clarity to that tendency to depression. Actually, the Easter communicants we experienced in the parish last year were the highest since 1936. In reality, every priest has had trouble recruiting for the Good Shepherd and making it sustainable. Further, the numbers in Tottenham do not give credence to the diminishing of church attendance with the liberalizing of so ciety in the Fifties and Sixties. There the high point of church life was 1927 and so it seems to have been possibly economic recession and possibly even the travesty of World War I that so affected the Christians there. Knowing the history of your own churches might just help curb some of the anxiety and despondency, especially if you are a numbers-obsessed priest like me.
Secondly, undoubtedly the best thing for the Good Shepherd was for it to close when it did. If it hadn’t happened then it would have been embedded in current local memory as a failed Church. As it is, seventy years on there is no stigma attached to the building. Some local residents remember former occupants but not it ever being used for Sunday worship. It is much easier to open in that atmosphere when simply curiosity will get people into the building. Indeed, during the building work we simply put a banner up saying, ‘The Church of the Good Shepherd. Coming soon …’ Utilize people’s nosiness. Anyway, the message is that I do think it is right to close Churches.
Anyway, what does this all mean for you? I hope in some ways this article has demonstrated how easy mission is. A priest near me has recently taken on responsibility for a church which had been run into the ground over decades. The change in a few months can be quite startling. Having the door open when Mass is being offered; delivery of Christmas cards to the streets of the parish; erection of new noticeboards – the bread and butter of parish ministry are all part of the transformation.
One of the many challenges confronting Catholics in the Church of England is to rebuild so many dead congregations that either became obsessed with bitterness or too lethargic to be that even. We as a constituency have sadly not followed the untiring examples of the greats of our Church.
So I leave you with the mottos of Marlborough College and Tottenham Hotspur FC – an unholy alliance perhaps, but like Evangelicals and Catholics working together, I think it is a good thing:
Deus dat incrementum God giveth the increase
Audere est facere To dare is to do ND