The Ugley Vicar, significant questions about the CofE's approach to priestly ministry have been raised by Elizaphanian. Noting the existing CofE mechanism for distributing clergy, Elizaphanian suggests that some fundamental issues are being avoided:
We will be asking clergy (and bishops) to do more and more with less and less ... We
will end up either with ever-increasing
levels of clergy burn-out; or with ever-increasing congregational decline
and disillusionment; or, most probably, both. This is exactly the pattern of
thinking that led us into our present problems, so why do we expect a different
result from continuing with it?
So what is to be done? One answer is to
're-imagine ministry' - along
the lines that Bishop Stephen is calling for here in Chelmsford Diocese. I
strongly support what +Stephen is attempting to do, but I suspect that we are
still not digging down into the real roots of the problem. Do we: change our
understandings of priesthood; change our understandings of lay ministry; or -
increase the numbers of clergy?
Elizaphanian proposes a number of measures to re-orient our understanding of priestly ministry - a new approach to formation for ordination, a realisation that effective pastoral ministry requires a priest-people ratio of 1:100, abolition of the parish share system, and (I think I am right in summarising this) a post-establishment mindset.
It is worth considering Elizaphanian's reflections alongside thoughts from other parts of the church catholic. The Curate's Desk considers matter from an Anglo-catholic perspective in TEC:
We cannot be a Church of all things to all people and expect to exist let alone thrive.
This points in the direction of a renewal of the spirituality of Common Prayer, of praying Word, Psalter and Sacraments together in the discipline of local community:
The Church has the means to pray together and this is our blueprint for the future. Neither congregationalism nor forced centralism offer hope for the body of the faithful. The Prayer Book is not a force of its own. It is given life by our common use of it – by our commitment to be brought together as a praying community that has agreed on it as our way of adoring Christ together.
From an Australian Roman Catholic viewpoint, Tracey Rowland (author of the excellent Ratzinger's Faith and Benedict XVI), has suggested that while some Australian RC dioceses are going about renewal and evangelisation, others are somewhat moribund:
The vibrant orders of religious and new ecclesial communities will need to be invited into these areas to lead the work of renewal and rekindle hope.
It does make one wonder what the Anglican equivalent is of "vibrant orders of religious and new ecclesial communities". Is it HTB's church planting? Is it the still somewhat uncertain but exciting beginnings of the new monasticism? Is it the Benedictine Companions in St Paul's, DC? The answer surely must be, yes, these do have the potential to be or contribute towards new ecclesial communities within Anglicanism.
Also to be borne in mind in an English context is the Reform network. Yes, I know it is a very different expression of Anglicanism to that practised by catholicity and covenant, but its success in evangelisation and growing disciples cannot be denied. The Ugley Vicar recently pointed to the statistics associated with the Reform churches involved in Proper Provision:
They have provided 367 ordinands over the past 10 years and have, on average, more than doubled their congregration and planted 68 new churches or congregations in the past 10 years.
Neither Reform nor its opponents are likely to regard the network as a "new ecclesial community", but in at least some sense this is what Reform is: a distinct spirituality; relationships which nourish and build leadership; the fostering of vocations etc.
Today's commemoration (in the Common Worship calendar) of John and Charles Wesley is a good time to reflect on these matters. Was the Gospel served by either the response of the English episcopate to the Wesleys or by the subsequent Methodist schism? Allowing a diversity of contemporary ecclesial communities and movements to flourish is probably pretty fundamental to the future of an authentically catholic and evangelical Anglicanism living out the Great Commission.