The real Diocesan crisis?
Last year I began my synod blog with the words: 'The Anglican Church seems to be very good at managing slow decline.' They were the deliberately cheeky and provocative words of a friend, which continue to haunt me.
In the lead up to synod this year, it is shaping up to be a time of dealing and reflecting on the aftermath of the Diocese Financial Crisis. On the one hand this is necessary, for Diocese organizations are accountable to synod. But on the other hand my fear is these issues will once again take us away from the 'main game'.
One of my recollections of last year's synod was the level of passion surrounding the lay administration discussions. Almost everyone wanted to speak, or so it seemed. Certainly everyone was on edge. Almost all were engaged in the discussion in some way. But it was a notable contrast to the level of engagement when it came to talking about Connect09 and our mission to reach Sydney with the message of Jesus. Could this be a reflection that 'resources are still largely focused on ministering to church members rather than connecting with the community' (p7, The Diocese Mission: Strategic Directions 2010-2012)?
On Monday I returned from holidays to a pile of mail and I knew the big one would be the synod papers. Once again, in my view, the most important document is not the 420 page blue book, nor the 200 pages of supplementary information, nor (though close) the car parking voucher. It is the short 30 page booklet The Diocese Mission: Strategic Directions 2010-2012.
Once again there is a recognition that our churches are not growing; the need to build on the positives of Connect09 is clear; and the list goes on. The report is succinct and articulate. A PDF can be found on this page. Please take the time to read it. Of particular interest is the renewed shift: from central to local.
Our theology of church in Sydney Diocese has long said that, of course. But could it be that the pragmatic reality of the Global Financial Crisis now means we are more serious about it?
The clearest illustration is the introduction of mission areas and leaders, who are existing rectors (it is clever to start something new rather than reform existing structures I might add). The concept is well worth a very serious try. Churches are not very good at working together. Suspicion can so easily creep in, and sometimes that may be warranted. Personal egos can take over, and the list goes on.
However, if we are to mobilize and align more resources at the local level, this is the kind of thing we must try. It is not ourselves we are serving, but the Lord Jesus. We are blessed with extraordinary resources - property, money and most importantly people. The losses we have heard so much about this year are only a very small part of the larger picture.
And once again this year, my primary interest will be to see the priority of the representatives of our churches. Will we seriously be moved and overwhelmed with the future of the Gospel in our great city? Or will we be content to manage 0.5 percent growth, and focus on 'internal' matters? If our synod is not overwhelmed with the status of our 'progress' and called to urgent action, why should we expect the people in our churches to be?