Why the Church Of England needs urgent reform in a post-pandemic society

The Covid-19 pandemic has hastened the need for drastic change and post-pandemic renewal is essential if anything is to be left for the next generation of believers. 

By Reverend David John Keighley

The Covid19 pandemic may have finally tolled the death knell for the Church of England. Devastated by bureaucracy, mismanagement, clergy redundancies, a torrential decline in congregations, a ruinous collapse of finances, decades of failed initiatives, and an uninspiring leadership, there is little to be positive or hopeful about.

The abandonment of the nation’s need for spiritual succour by hiding behind locked doors and taking to the streaming blogosphere, has only driven a further wedge between the Church and the people it claims to serve.

If current rates of decline continue, in 2067 the Church of England will run out of congregations, so ending a run of 533 years as the established church, the Ecclesia Anglicana. Future hopes to promote the Christian message of Augustine’s mission to England in AD597 will necessitate a serious look at urgently reforming itself for 21st century life. The Covid-19 pandemic has hastened the need for drastic change and post-pandemic renewal is essential if anything is to be left for the next generation of believers.

My recently published book of progressive Christian poems — Poems, Piety, and Psyche:   Progressive Poems for Rebellious Christians — is my contribution to a rejuvenated theology for the changing face of the Church as it attempts to bounce back from its near collapse, and to help prevent its future status as a ‘holy relic’. The move to a progressive Christian theology, with a living faith for the Church of tomorrow, will be crucial in a post-pandemic society.

Perhaps the church needs to hear the millennial story before it’s too late and face the fact that,“Many people who love Jesus simply can’t stand church.”

‘Millennials Leaving 2020’ – Poems, Piety, and Psyche

 

A recent leaked internal report to The Sunday Times reveals the extent of the damage inflicted on the Church, with many buildings now unsustainable, a quarter of past worshippers not returning, and brutal cuts in clergy numbers which will finally break the pastoral link between parishioners and that dedicated band of caring priests devoted to their spiritual care. Communities need support, not being locked out of their place of holy comfort. The aftermath of the pandemic will shape the Church of the future.

When the church closed its doors during lockdown, and priests retreated behind computer screens, the nation took on board for itself the fundamental teachings of Christianity: love your neighbour; care and compassion for the suffering; sacrificial love for others despite all measures of gender, race, creed, sexuality and wealth (on which the church still holds judgemental views). Nurses and lorry drivers, cleaners and community workers, became the new priests.

Supermarkets open and garden centres thrive but try and access God’s house, and you won’t get inside

‘Safety First’ – Poems, Piety, and Psyche

Humankind has always formed a religious framework for civilised societies. The Church needs to respond to changes within society to become an institution properly equipped for sharing the Christian message, and conducting good works, in the 21st century. It must find a new place for a Church which has become redundant. Society has changed and this historic institution needs reform from its obsolete dogma, it’s self-protecting suffocating bureaucracy, and frequent offensive stances it has taken over the status of women and those sexualities it regards with contempt.

Traditional faith is dying. Traditional supernatural theism is dead. A Church based on a belief system that is unbelievable to today’s scientifically-literate citizens, and is based on archaic creeds and outmoded concepts, cannot remain the foundation of Christianity in a post-pandemic Britain. 

The Church of England should be reformed with a new theology, a new liturgy and an emphasis on acceptance, universal love, not judgement, and community care because it’s traditional foundations are crumbling and if it does not change, it will die. Without a revision of the archaic, unbelievable theology the church expects the next informed generation to take on board, all other efforts at change will be wasted. How do you get our young people to follow Christ’s teachings if they throw him out with the bathwater of rejected  beliefs the church still demands they accept.

All Christians should be heretics, searchers after Truth, only considered wrong because they disagree with the accepted beliefs of the herd.

‘Burned at the Stake’ – Poems, Piety, and Psyche

The church needs constant reformation, as the Declaration of Assent states when a new priest is handed his parish: “The Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. A radical restructuring of the Church of England has to be taken as a given. Things cannot continue as they have before this pandemic.

It is a reality to behold that the Church of England favours looking in over looking out.

The very last thing it wishes to do is engage with reality.

‘Navel Gazing’ – Poems, Piety, and Psyche

In dire danger of dying out if current decline continues at the same rate as the past three decades, with clergy, congregations and income all nose-diving, it must change its theology and it’s structures if it is to survive and recover from the bashing it received during Covid, when it locked God out for the nation. Playing with systems, administrative structures, and top-heavy hierarchy will simply be an exercise as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

My forty years of ministry as a rural parish priest at the coal-face, having avoided the ivory-towered trappings of episcopal ‘high office’ where there is little parish experience, leads me to draw the inevitable conclusion for the future Church of England. If it can’t persuade English Heritage to take them on, the majority of its surplus churches — perhaps up to 75% of total churches —should be closed or sold. The Church should then centralise parish worship, channelling worshippers to one remaining building within multi-parish benefices, and use the income generated for community-care projects and for housing the homeless, based squarely upon the Christian theology of love and Christ’s example. It must, in short, start to live up to its mantra: ‘The church is the people, not the building’.

If the Church of England can muster the strength for renewal by embracing a progressive Christian outlook then it may still have a chance to reclaim its once-held position at the centre of our society.

Poems, Piety, and Psyche: Progressive Poems for Rebellious Christians by Revd David John Keighley is published by Resource Publications and is out now on Amazon priced £20 in paperback and £7.69 as an eBook. Visit www.davidkeighleywriter.com 

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