The Church of England is facing, and has been for some considerable time now, what it sees as a crisis. The numbers of people attending church on a Sunday has been in decline for many years, and the money is running out to the point where some Dioceses are talking about facing bankruptcy. There is a certain irony here, because society at large is more interested in things spiritual than it has been for some time. But there is little point in society looking to the institutional churches for help with that because they are primarily concerned with saving themselves, with managing their way through this perceived crisis.
Its much easier to lose clerical posts than it is to close churches, so the number of church buildings remains fairly constant, while the number of full-time employees [mainly clergy] is dropping fast. Result? Most clerical time is spent trying to keep the organisation on the road, with surviving: once they’ve taken all the services in their churches on a Sunday, with the preparation time that requires; taken the baptisms, weddings and funerals that come their way; and attended all the meetings that each of their churches have; there’s not much time left for anything else. And they’re run off their feet. Most parochial clergy, in my experience, find it hard to find time for their own spiritual needs, let alone find time for the needs of others.
The institution’s response to this perceived crisis appears to be two-fold. On the one hand top down initiatives from the Bishops and the Dioceses, which the already over worked clergy and regular churchgoers don’t have either the time or the energy for. And secondly, an emphasis on training clergy to be managers.
I’m sure that the church, like any other organisation, needs people to manage it. But, in my experience, very few parochial clergy felt that getting ordained was about ‘managing’ the church: they don’t see themselves as having been called by God to ‘manage’ it, nor do they think that God has equipped them for such a role. So what’s the answer? Well if you have a house full of dogs and a problem with mice, you could try training your dogs to be mousers, but you’d be better off getting some cats, and letting the dogs be dogs. So why doesn’t the church employ people skilled and gifted at management, to do the managing, and let the clergy and the laity get on with using whatever their gifts might be? Simple!!
And what of this perceived crisis facing the church? Let me offer some good news, some Gospel news. First, this is an issue not only for the Church of England, but for all the institutional churches in the UK. And its not even peculiar to the UK. Across western Europe churches are facing the same issue: the problem is Europe-wide. So its not your fault. None of us is personally responsible for it. Its not a sign of our, my, your failure. So there is no need to feel guilty, indeed, feeling guilty wont help.
Second. My stock in trade question as a spiritual director is “Where is God in all this?” This is the question that the church should be asking now. Instead its facing the wrong way and asking the wrong questions. It sees this as a crisis that it has to resolve, a failure that it has to correct. Better, it seems to me, more faithful it seems to me, to assume that God is at work in this perceived crisis, and to ask “What might God be up to here?” The last thing the church should be concerned with is saving itself. The core Gospel message is one of death and resurrection. Death is not something to be sought, but neither is it something to be avoided. And we can rely on God to do the saving, indeed, its not something we can do for ourselves.
So what does this mean in practical terms? As I see it, it mean five things.
 Keep asking the question “Where is God in all this?”, and keep trusting that if you do so, then the answer in terms of what small step you need to take in response to that question, will be given you. Don’t place your trust in any person or institution that claims to be able to tell you the answer to your question. Trust your own wisdom: learn to trust the voice of God within you.
 Trust that you have been created in God’s own image: that your task is to grow into the person whom God has made you/called you to become; that deep down you know what that means; and that if you trust that knowing then whatever is required of you will flow naturally from you. In other words focus on whatever you know feeds your soul. I take it that this is the message of Mary Oliver’s poem.
 Take time and space to step back and become aware of signs of God at work in the world, mostly in unexpected places. Look out for your equivalent of Jenny’s ‘Wildflowers’, and honour them, whatever that means.
 Notice what is already feeding your soul. Trust me that there’ll be more of that than you think. And pay attention to, and honour, what is feeding the souls of others, especially those outside the church. Maybe there are opportunities for corporate feeding?
 Be comfortable with the idea that sometimes, often maybe, you could be called to do nothing, other than to wait and be attentive. Hold on a minute didn’t Jesus often invite his listeners to do just that? ‘Stay alert…..be watchful……and look out for the signs of God’s Kingdom breaking in’. There are plenty of them: God is busy.