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A Crisis for the Faithful

The great leap forward will cull clergy and abandon parishioners

The new growth strategy is code named Myriad, Greek for ten thousand. The idea has been to have 10,000 new churches by 2030, creating a million new disciples.

Project Myriad, or something like it, has been in the wings for several decades.

By Nazarul Islam

Students of Divinity know there exist some forms of Christianity, with the sole purpose to reproduce. Christians are here to make new Christians who, in turn, are called to go out there and make even more new ones. The purpose of church life has traditionally been to beget more church life.

Lascivious for converts, these good shepherds admire the sheep in the pews principally for their reproductive qualities. And one can tell it’s these sorts of Christians that are now running the show in the Church of England, because those priests who are deemed to be infertile or firing evangelistic blanks are being slated for the knacker’s yard.

The latest group to be targeted for a cull is the clergy themselves. In more senses than one, we are being directed to Genesis chapter nine, verse seven: “Go forth and multiply!”

The new growth strategy from head office is code named Myriad, Greek for ten thousand. The idea has been to have 10,000 new churches by 2030, creating a million new disciples. Don’t worry about the figures too much; they are nothing more than fantasy numbers plucked from the sky. As a general rule, church growth is inversely proportional to the big talk coming from head office.

Of course, Christians are all supposed to nod along, as if this is some fabulous, exciting initiative. As Martyn Percy, the Dean of the Cathedral in Oxford, explained, it’s becoming a bit like one of those Stalinist 10-year plans, something we are all obliged to cheer, yet one that is totally disconnected to reality.

The latest Great Leap Forward for the C of E looks like this. Get rid of all those crumbling churches. Get rid of the clergy. Do away with all that expensive theological education. These are all “limiting factors”. Instead, focus relentlessly on young people. Growth, Young People, Forwards. Purge the church of all those clapped-out clergy pottering about in their parishes.

Christians in England have been pursuing a different approach: Forget the Eucharist, or at least, put those who administer it on some sort of zero hours’ contract. Sell their vicarages. This is what their new shepherds want in their prize sheep: to be young, dumb, and full of evangelistic… zeal.

In case my readers are thinking I am over-stating the matter? This is how Canon John McGinley recently explained the thinking behind Myriad:

“Lay-led churches release the church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of the church … then we can release new people to lead and new churches to form. It also releases the discipleship of people. In church planting, there are no passengers.”

Project Myriad, or something like it, has been in the wings for several decades. Many years ago, it was called The Decade of Evangelism. It was an embarrassing disaster. And throughout the passage time, there is always another tiresomely new initiative on the go with some enthusiastic sounding name like Springboard. Most of clergy have inwardly groaned when they hear of yet another exciting new strategy.

But Covid has finally given its proponents the opportunity they had needed. When the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to celebrate and broadcast the Eucharist on Easter Day 2020 from his kitchen, rather than popping down a few stairs to Lambeth Palace’s fine 13th-century chapel, he was clearly making a point: all those old stones are holding us back, they are unnecessary. It’s called “a new way of being church”. England’s new churches will meet in people’s homes, not in churches.

Around 20-30 will gather in the living rooms of the wealthiest people in the parish — who else has a living room that can sit this many people?

Of course, the shepherds know that many of the sheep don’t like the direction in which they are being led. The recent revolt of the Diocese of Winchester against their Bishop is a case in point. They had threatened a vote of no confidence and he has stepped back from ministry. As Jeremy Clarkson has recently discovered, sheep can be remarkably bolshy creatures with a mind of their own. So, inevitably, the shepherds have been trying to calm their flock with soothing words. They now want a mixed economy church, they have desired.

Obviously, they are not seeking to send un-reproductive clergy to the knacker’s yard. They are not eager to sell off their medieval church to be converted into yuppie flats. This isn’t about replacing the organ with the overhead projector or clearing out the books from the Vicar’s Study and replacing them with office equipment. Let many flowers bloom, they have reportedly said

Research: Christian World

Nazarul Islam

The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.
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