Reflections on decline – Cheryl Jacobs

I will admit that I often just skim through the Anglican Journal when it arrives - reading the article titles and picture captions, and perhaps the letters to the editor to get a sense of the national temperature.  It is also often the case, that as a member of the bishop and synod staff, that I have read through a number of articles for the NB Anglican prior to them going to print - so I perhaps look at the paper as old news. But, having some downtime while on my trip to the Diocese of Ho, I read through the copy of the Journal I took with me.

The theme for the January edition of the Anglican Journal was around the challenge, the “wake-up call”, presented by the recent statistics report highlighting the declining numbers in the Anglican Church.  Despite this bad news that one could focus on, I found many a good word to our church at this time.

My eye was first caught by the letter from the Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Cuba to Canadian Anglicans with lessons from the change in the Cuban church - a church that could have been wiped out by the change to Communism in that country.  Bishop Maria noted the two-dimensional nature of the church, in Cuba and Canada, both an “institution that signaled guidelines and norms, and, the missional, sacramental and living church.” She warns of this shadow of secularisms that exists in both countries which can distance us from a lively, passionate faith; but because Canadians are also loving and accepting of differences, we have “great possibilities of deepening faith in the lives of many.”

In his Editorial Letter, Matthew Townsend cautions on how we speak about the state of decline in attendance in Anglican (and other) churches.  One way we do so is to lament the loss of Christendom; and here, I must agree with the editor that this is really a good thing for the spiritual health of the church.  Certainly, one can question how much long-term disciple-making was going on when Christianity was part of the culture. The other is speaking of decline as if it is still a future thing and we just need to come up with a solution, not taking God's will into account.  Matthew’s article ends well: “Every time two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, the true King, the church lives. Everything else is just statistics.”

Our new Primate, in her column, continues on this theme, further encouraging us to keep our eyes on Jesus: “Like the Israelites in the Exodus, we are being sent out not knowing our destination. We are being sent out of the comfort and plenty we once knew into discovering a new resiliency.”

I found many a good word to our church at this time

Archbishop Mark MacDonald's column also helps us to accurately identifying our challenge: “survival, as a goal, tends to generate a morality and procedure ensuring death.” “The task is presented as the management of decline. The real task is the rediscovery of hope.”  He identifies the challenge in terms of four crises: of identity, of commitment, of people, and of resources which, to my thinking, he correctly rewords to a crisis of imagination and faith.

Though longer and perhaps more of a disjointed read, the interview with awarded philosopher Charles Taylor is worth the effort as he discusses the spiritual restlessness of our time and what we have to offer.

And one should not miss the articles in the 20-40 section, including an inciteful one by our own Dr. Cole Hartin. He also supposes that God’s will in involved here and that we must realize we are in exile, grieve and then pray.

So let us not look back to Egypt.  Let us set out on this new exodus, praising a God who is always faithful and grace-giving - who has entered our reality through the person of Jesus Christ to show us how to live, but who is God yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let us look for the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud, and go where the Holy Spirit leads, knowing God's people are destined for the promised land and we want to share that with all God's creation.

Borrowing from Archbishop Mark's letter, it will be as we turn to Jesus, rediscover discipleship and reach out to the other, we will 'imagine a form of Eucharistic community that is replicable, sustainable and transformational.'

Footnote:  Please do not miss the Green Shoots section on thriving congregations where two New Brunswick parishes are highlighted.

Psalm 126

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Cheryl Jacobs
Cheryl  chairs the Diocesan Council Spiritual Development Team.

Read past issues of the Anglican Journal
See comments of the Dean of Fredericton in his Annual Report to the Cathedral Congregation in February 2020.


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