What kind of church are we? That seems to me to be at the heart of so much of what we have talked about this morning in Synod. The answer that you give to that question will depend very much, of course, on your ecclesiology. My own view is that we are part of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ as we say in the Creed. There are then certain things that flow from that.
Let me see if I can explain what those five words say to me
one – that in important, almost vital ways, we are united, unified in faith and in practice, that we have shared beliefs and shared words for worshipping the one God in whom we believe and that we believe that this unity is an essential part of our character and nature.
holy – that we are the body of Christ, that we are in the world but not of the world, that we are set aside to be salt and light in the midst of the world.
catholic – that we are world wide and history long, that we are more than ourselves, that any congregation is only a representation of something which exists beyond it in time and in eternity and that much of what we do has been received and will be handed on.
apostolic – that we are formed for mission and ministry, for making Christ known and for ministering as a servant people to a needy world and that the whole people of God perform this ministry from which some are set aside for specific tasks as bishops, priests and deacons.
church – that we are the household of God which gathers to break word and bread, in which Christ is in the midst when two or three gather together.
That’s not exhaustive, just some initial thoughts. But what concerns me about so much of the legislation that is coming forward and so many of the amendments being proposed is that their effect is to undermine one or more of these elements. So on the face of it none of them really matters but add them together and I fear that we could create a ‘congregational’ church where there was and is the church catholic. So, for instance, I see a distrust of the episcopacy – and maybe the actions at times of our bishops accounts for some of that – and a desire that local needs and local manifestation of the church overrides any consideration of what makes us ‘the Church of England’.
Of course, I may be wrong – but just in case I’m not, I need to keep alert to what is before us.
Holy God, for the gift of your holy church we give you thanks and praise. Amen.