by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of Via Media and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
In a word or two – not very much!
For the vast majority of Anglicans both here in England and further abroad, the year ahead is likely to be one that is focused on the daily challenges of witnessing Christ to a world that needs to hear the Good News of Jesus more than ever before. It’s a task with which we Christians have been grappling with for many years, and this year is likely to be no different to any other.
Unlike the Revd David Baker in his article that responds to this precise question in Christian Today (Jan 2nd 2020), I do not believe 2020 will be shaped by answers to questions relating to Church discussions on sexuality. Instead, I believe it will be shaped by whether we, the Church – in all our various denominational forms – can become known for the love that we profess to preach.
Interestingly, I doubt that very few churchgoers across the Anglican Communion have actually ever heard of the Church of England’s Evangelical Council or indeed of GAFCON. They will, however, have heard of the challenges their vicar faces in meeting the needs of the poor in their area and the growing inequality that exists between those who “have” and “have not” in their neighbourhood.
If they are in England, they will most likely know that their church has much in common with the other public services in their area that have been starved of investment and are struggling to cope with increased demand. Many will be concerned at the aging nature of their congregations and their diminishing ability to pay their parish share. Some will feel they have been raising this problem for many years with a central structure that they feel is not listening to their predicament, or who are ignoring their difficulties because they do not want to face the reality that the “system is broken”. Others will be excited about the calling that God has placed on their hearts but will be struggling to see how they can follow it with all the other demands that are being placed on them.
What I believe will unite the majority is a deep frustration with church politics that seems to “get in the way” of their mission. Many have no idea why the Church of England doesn’t practice what it preaches and allow its doors to be open wide enough for everyone to feel welcomed and celebrated.
If there is one thing that I do foresee happening in 2020, it is a major show down between the hither-to-silent laity and their leaders, particularly in conservative churches. Personally, I think many clergy are likely to be in for quite a shock – particularly in terms of the reactions from their younger members – when they finally come clean about where they stand on certain issues.
(As an aside, do you know where your own vicar stands on the issues that matter to you most? Why not resolve to ask them directly this year if you haven’t already done so?)
So, what will happen to the Church of England in 2020?
It will continue much as it has always done to live in the grey world of compromise, otherwise known as trying to hold in tension as broad a set of views on any particular topic as possible. Some may feel they have to leave as they cannot accept that others hold differing views to them with just as much sincerity and depth of belief. They will not be the first to leave nor the last, for this is a trait that has been going on for centuries. However, the vast majority will continue “like a mighty tortoise” (as the parody of Onward Christian Soldiers states) “…treading where we’ve often trod”.
Tortoise or no tortoise, the direction of travel on various issues is clear.
We will continue to speak out for the poor and the marginalised, challenging those “who have” to open their hearts and their wallets to those “who have not”. We will continue to be the hands, ears and feet that seek to serve and support those around us who need practical help, or someone to talk to. We will continue to use our considerable investment power to influence large multinationals and hold them to account over their climate change commitments. We will continue to try and hold those in power to account, including in our own internal church structures.
Most of all, we will continue to love without question – without caveats or exception clauses. And we will move to ensure that no one is ever excluded from celebrating the love that they have found and wish to commit to with regards to their significant other.
And what of the Anglican Communion in 2020?
God quite literally knows.
Institutions by their very nature are man-made, and the Anglican Communion is no exception. It is out of most of our hands as to what happens.
But whatever does happen two things are certain – the God of Love will continue to be worshipped and the Good News of Jesus will continue to be shared.
Happy New Year!