Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, laments that the Church of England is just “one generation away from extinction”.
The reasons for this are, according to him, mostly demographic: old church-goers are dying out without being replaced by an influx of youngsters.
The derivative problem is, according to him, mostly financial. As parishes are growing smaller, so are their revenues. The cost of maintaining church buildings, however, is stubbornly going in the opposite direction. This, says Lord Carey, threatens the existence of our national Church.
Though this analysis is somewhat lacking in depth, it does lead to an unequivocal conclusion. In order to survive, the Church must attract more young worshippers.
This is no mean task, which is illustrated by the grandson of a friend of mine. The boy was asked in class to supply a word, starting with an ‘a’, that describes someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God, but just doesn’t know.
Without a moment’s hesitation the boy blurted, “Anglican, Miss!” The boy’s reply was telling, if technically incorrect.
So how does Lord Carey propose to combat this image of Anglicanism, filling the churches and thereby the coffers of the national Church? What according to him is the crux of the problem?
Simple. Anglican services are ‘too boring’. Again the conclusion offers itself: make them less boring and youngsters will flock in.
Lord Carey didn’t define ‘less boring’ but, considering his own liturgical preferences, to him ‘less boring’ probably means less orthodox.
Well, the Church is making giant steps in that direction already, what with ordaining female clergy, using crass versions of scriptural texts, blessing same-sex marriages and consecrating women bishops, coming soon to the diocese near you.
Alas, such measures haven’t produced a stampede of new communicants: Anglican congregations are running at half the numbers they had in the ‘60s. Unless the Church puts more bums on pews soon, before long there won’t be any bums left and consequently no pews.
Clearly, drastic measures are in order: we must make church-going fun, to compete with the fun offered on pop-music and porn websites. Hence my modest proposal.
What if not some but most vicars were female? And what if they all celebrated mass wearing their dog collars and nothing else? Suddenly we can all see boys rushing in just to hear a naked woman saying, “this is my body…”
Now, scanning the photographs of some of our women vicars, one may feel that their nudity may have the opposite effect. But not to worry. Suddenly a massive existential problem has been reduced to a small technical one.
All the Church has to do is ordain women mainly on the basis of their vital statistics. Never mind the theology, feel the flesh.
Can’t you just see those boards on churches’ façades? “The Rev. Jane Doe, 38-24-38, nude mass, evensong to the biggest hits on the chart.” If you were a teenager passing by, wouldn’t you be curious to see what’s going on inside? QED.
Not sure about this idea? No problem; I have many others. For example, A.N. Wilson puts the diminishing attendance down to the observable fact that young people no longer believe in the Incarnation of Christ.
From his narrow perspective he sees this as a serious drawback. However, it instantly becomes less problematic if we look at it merely from the standpoint of increased attendance, not theological rectitude.
Here the market-survey techniques currently being pioneered by the Catholic Church will come in handy. The purpose of market surveys in the commercial, and now also ecclesiastical, world is to identify what the potential customers want and give it to them.
In this instance, if youngsters don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, just take it out of the liturgy altogether. Jesus has already become a superstar, so why not turn him into just a pop star to attract those self-abusing youths? No reason at all.
A nude female vicar could impersonate Mary Magdalene, while a similarly unclad vicar could do her husband, a writhing, dancing, singing Jesus. Draw youngsters in? You could charge admission and get away with it.
Sorry for being so flippant. The alternative is too distressing: having to remind the Church of what it’s for.
Still, for old times’ sake, one could mention that the purpose of a church is to preach Truth, bringing people together in communion with God and assisting their salvation.
All should be welcome to come in, and the clergy, indeed all Christians, are duty-bound to invite all. But the invitation must be based on the appeal of Truth, not on vulgar tricks borrowed from mass marketing, pop music and whatever secular fads are currently in vogue.
The early Church didn’t draw pagans in by promising that their time-honoured practice of human sacrifice could continue. It didn’t seek popularity by encouraging licence, perversion and good-natured agnosticism.
Instead the Church simply said, “This is Truth – take it or leave it.” Enough people took it to build on the foundations of this Truth the greatest civilisation the world has ever known.
We must all lament that the situation has changed and most people are deaf to Truth. Such people must be taught or, failing that, pitied. But they must not be tricked by vulgarising Truth and thus turning it into a lie.
If this means reduced congregations and smaller revenues, then so be it. Two millennia ago the Church managed to shine the light of Truth out of Roman catacombs and Mediterranean barns. Quality attracted quantity, turning the Church into the dominant institution of the West.
The answer to the Church’s problem isn’t less orthodoxy, but more. Truth isn’t a weathervane turning whichever way the wind is blowing. It’s immutable, uncompromising and non-negotiable. One only wishes that more of our prelates understood this.