The changing role of the Church

margaret_portraitDuring the service at which I was licensed as Priest-in-Charge of this Parish, Bishop Robert, the Bishop of Stockport, said that he hoped as a Church we would not be undertakers or caretakers but risk-takers for the Kingdom of God. It’s a real challenge and one, not just for our parish, but for many Christian communities throughout Britain. In many places congregations are dwindling and although attendance at our two main services each Sunday morning remains steady, our congregations at those services isn’t growing significantly and certainly isn’t attracting the younger families we would like to see attending in larger numbers. So why is this?

There is any number of possible reasons. For some it is the one day when families can relax and do things as a family – have a day out, hit the shops, chill at home. For others, it is the day when children do football, rugby, swimming or some other activity. But, perhaps a significant reason is, that for many people below the age of fifty, going to church on Sundays has never been part of their routine and therefore has no relevance.

Those of us who attend church regularly are used to the language and the rituals – we know what’s going on more-or-less. But, if you’re not a regular church-goer, what happens during a service can seem quite alien. The small, faithful congregation, who attend our 8.00am Communion Services love the traditional language of 1662 used in that service, but, for anyone attending that service with no background knowledge it would just be gobbledy gook!

With our present congregations it would be easy to see ourselves as caretakers, clinging to what we’re used to and maintaining our services and our buildings as best we can. And if congregations begin to dwindle we could become the undertakers, waiting for our church to die, and wondering whether we’ll be able to preserve our buildings that are very expensive to heat and maintain.

But, during our recent Study Course we began to think outside the box and to reflect on what it means to be the Church in Whaley Bridge today. We have now held a number of ‘Messy Church’ events and these are proving popular with young families. The worship is informal and the families enjoy the activities and the food. This year we plan to hold ‘Messy Church’ on Sunday afternoons every other month -- 9th March, 11th May, 13th July, 14th September and 16th November. During the Study Course we also experimented with Café Worship and hope to trial that later this year.

Once every other month people from the Whaley Bridge Churches Together visit Cromford Court, where we may have a singsong or share party pieces, with afternoon tea in the middle. Reflecting about this, we realised that this is what some would call a ‘Fresh Expression of Church’ – not church in the traditional sense, but Christians taking the opportunity just to meet and share with other people. And, thinking in this way, realising that church doesn’t have to happen just on Sundays using particular services in certain designated buildings, frees us to become risk-takers for the Kingdom of God. The skills and expertise that so many in our congregations have are a rich resource for the whole community and it is important that in these difficult times we recognise this and use them for the good of all.

Many people still come to the church for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals and we want to encourage that. Please give me a ring or e-mail me if you would like to explore the possibility of your children being baptised or if you are planning to get married. Some people these days are also giving serious thought to Thanksgiving for Marriage and to taking the opportunity to renew their Marriage Vows. If you might be interested in this, please get in touch with me.