Towards the end of the 100-minute service at St Luke’s in Birmingham on a sunny Sunday morning, Taryn Nabi began to shake uncontrollably. Near her, a man fell to his knees with head bowed and arms outstretched. Several people wept; some embraced. GuardianSounds like church to me.
Cue references to to various movements through history including the Wesleys, Augustine, and the Apostolic church. But others are less comfortable with this direction in the Church of England:
“The diehards become more and more frenzied, while everyone else looks on in total incomprehension – and in many cases are repulsed.”This it simply is not my experience of running the Alpha Course. Or offering regular opportunities for prayer ministry in gathered worship. Or finding ways to make the richness of Catholic Anglican worship accessible to the unchurched. Or for that matter simply going out into the community and telling people about Jesus.
And then we have Martyn Percy:
"The church", (is) in the grip of a “small group of elite organisationally minded evangelicals who think the church is a biddable, shapeable, governable body, and that’s not the case. The reality is complex, messy, knotty."Martyn is correct that the Church of England is difficult to lead. But it requires leadership. Evangelicals have invested in leadership training over the last 20 years in a way that other traditions have not. Some of those models may be good, some may be bad, but the alternative seems to be no intentional leadership. I learnt more about missional parish leadership in a one day course from an evangelical than I did in three years at theological college.
"A lot of the ways in which [evangelicals] talk about God is fundamentally offputting. More people are turned off than turned on.”The anonymous commentator spoke of repulsion. Martyn speaks of 'fundamentally offputting'. This is emotional language.
In the past I have had my own hang ups about charismatic and evangelical spirituality. There are issues in all spiritual traditions, but I have come to recognise two things. Firstly that contemporary evangelicalism is increasing in breadth and depth - including valuing and working with other traditions. Secondly that in some areas I was simply wrong. In particular in re-embracing the supernatural action of God in the charismatic. I am not alone on this journey - the old tribalism is dead.
There are questions - especially about how a central leadership vision works in parishes across the country that have become resistant to growth and mission.
Robert Cotton said. “Membership is not the language that I and those that live in the soggy middle of the CofE often use. Of course we want more people to come to church, but I don’t think of the church essentially as a membership organisation.”I cannot see the church surviving without becoming a membership organisation with high levels of commitment to growth from all the members of the church. But I understand where Robert is coming from. The difficulty is real and it needs to be addressed. Yet the soggy middle of the CofE does not have a great track record when it comes to growth.
Clergy hit brick walls in parish ministry and become disillusioned, but this is not the fault of those who are making it work. Evangelicals have built up support networks that have a proven track record, and are facing up to these new challenges.
And there are new networks and communities developing. The Sodality of the Holy Spirit is one such missional community:
"An inclusive community of individuals committed to developing the charisms (intentional, missional, expectational) in their own discipleship and ministry."There is also Sanctum which is transitioning from an event into a network:
"A network of emerging sacramental practitioners and dreamers.I am convinced that God is doing something new in the Church of England. Yes, there are legitimate questions, those of the critical friend, that need to be asked. My worry is that the voices of negativity will be taken as speaking for whole swathes of the Church.
To worship, recharge, share ideas, pray and support."
They do not speak for me.