Archbishop By Michele Guinness: Book Club Discussion On What Constitutes Church?

Posted at 07:42am on 12th November 2017


(Quotes from the book are in italics)

With some members of our Readers' Group being Street Pastors and School Pastors, and all of us attending churches involved in outreach, the issue of whether church is a building or a people was one that resonated. Faced with a barrage of complaints about closing down services that had only two people in attendance and congregations who resented sharing their vicar or being conjoined to other parishes with whom they had nothing in common, Archbishop Vicky observes: ' Nothing but their faith, or even their common humanity.'

Cockington Church: A Pencil Drawing by Merrilyn Williams


This was a statement we could all endorse. Our Readers' Group is made up of a mix of denominations and backgrounds, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Brethren and Baptist, but the friendship we enjoy, and the freedom we experience in sharing with one another, amply enhances the fact that we are all members of the same family of God.


We reflected on the shushing and tutting to which we had all been subjected when our children were small, and on the fact that the Gospels tell us Jesus welcomed children. 'What does that say about us?' Vicky asks. 'A little bit of disruption is a tiny price to pay for the insights children bring us. Drive them away and we not only lose their parents, we lose our next generation of leaders.' When countered with the demand that adults are surely entitled to quiet reflection? she rightly points out that if that is our attitude we shall one day have our silence - when there's no one left in the church to disrupt it. Children are not the church of tomorrow, she concludes, they are the church today, and its leaders one day if we haven't driven them away first.


Within the Group, the question of Gothic church buildings was raised in the context of maintenance costs and whether or not they are so ethereal as to be a turn-off to many people. In the book, Vicky speaks of her childhood when she eschewed the colouring of Jesus blonde curls in Sunday School, in favour of the colourful vestments, the smell of incense, flickering candlelight, the echoing sound of glorious harmonies . . . reverberating around the building. These, she said, fed an imagination hungry for spiritual sensation. So the conclusion was that it's probably different for everyone, and that for many, today, meeting in homes, coffee shops, pubs and community centres - a concept with which some of us are familiar - was a better option than an unheated vast edifice with hard pews and unintelligible liturgies.


With falling revenue - the latest generation of churchgoers, raised in a thriving me-centred Britain, didn't take well to the ongoing austerity of personal and national debt - Archbishop Vicky reminds the Prime Minister, 'We are not a heritage preservation society. We cannot go on maintaining the nation's historic buildings if they are not fit for purpose.'

At the same time, the church is investing in numerous projects which, while they don't necessarily put bums on the Sunday pews or coppers in the collection, plug gaps in the welfare state. 'Cost all of that,' says Vicky, 'and you have an idea of how much of your tax the church is saving.'

Somehow, my Book Club members somewhat doubted that this would occur to politicians, let alone the general public.

For Part One of the discussion, click here

and here for Part Three: Personal Discipleship & Service

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