Sinking Ships (Redux)

Keen as I am to keep on top of the ever evolving UK Christian blogosphere I am only just catching up with the conversations surrounding an article on a the 'mega-blog' Threads a few weeks back. The piece called "Sunken Ship Recruiting Now" by Alex Willmott was taken down and various people have responded including Liz Clutterbuck.

A quick search of Threads finds other pieces by Alex - all of the same vein. I remember reading his piece on Church & Sex Toys and being bemused that any Christian would find sex toys shocking - after all one of my two commercial ordination cards 10 years ago was from 'whollylove' a Christian sex toy venture, now sadly defunct (the other was from a Christian dating site for clergy). Then we have If You Can't Lead a Church ... which wrestles with the question of how clergy can stay in post whilst their organisations so visibly fails.

Photo: Matt Mechtley It looks like a Sinking Ship but really it's a Car Park.

Which is kinda how I ended up an Anglican in the first place. To escape a 'strong leadership culture'. To be part of the church that met with my mother on her deathbed, whilst my particular brand of 'radical' Christianity didn't. To escape a bubble of 'churchianity' that was like living inside a branch of Wesley Owen (if you remember them).

Underlying all of Alex's concerns is a different ecclesiology. I stayed an Anglican because I became a Catholic Christian.

I believe Jesus intended to start a Liturgical, Sacramental, Spirit Filled Church growing out of his Rabbinical model, with his disciples ordaining others as he ordained them. Either that or John's Gospel represents some sort of corruption of Christ's vision.
John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
There is a lot going on here - not just the actual events but how the the first readers of John, the early Catholic church would have read it.

  • 'The doors ... were locked'  - John's euphemistic term for rite of offering the Eucharist (see also the book of Revelation for how that might have looked liturgically). 
  • 'Jesus stood among them' - Where Christ was fully present. 
  • 'Peace, be with you' - A liturgical greeting, but also an experience of Christ.
  • 'Hands & Side' - Christ present In resurrection and in sacrifice.
  • 'Rejoiced' - An emotional response to the ritual.
  • 'Jesus Said' - The charismatic prophetic voice.
  • 'I send you' - The apostolic commission - to be sent out and share the Gospel.
  • 'Receive the Holy Spirit' - Ordination.
  • 'Forgive the sins' - The sacrament of reconciliation as mission.
This is ministry. This is the Church. This is what I am called to.

So what of our sinking ship?

The CofE is not the Church Catholic. We are one expression of the Church Catholic - and it is vital that we remain so. But we are not growing at present - or are we?

We are not dead yet because new people are coming to faith all the time - in the fantastic congregation I lead and serve and in many others. Considering the number of people who die of natural causes in Anglican congregations it's a wonder we have anyone left at all. 

This means we are a shrinking ship, but one at which God is very much at work. Where those 9 bullets, the apostolic faith, is happening. That is the church - not the ship. And if the CofE does shrink or sink it will continue despite it.

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