Are our churches caught like rabbits in the headlights of progress? Sometimes the phrase ‘re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’ comes easily to mind. a chilling yet apt description of taking meaningless action in the face of impending disaster.
In the Anglican Church in the UK, we are rejoicing in the appointment of the first women bishops. Alleluia! And yet it was in 1975 that the Sex Discrimination Act came into force in this country. It has only taken 40 years for the church to agree that women are capable of taking on the mantle of becoming bishops. For the secular world, it must beggar belief that half of the population has been barred from this office. Whilst many in the church are rejoicing at the headline announcements of the first female bishops, many outside of the church culture are saying ‘So what’s the big deal?’ and will see an organisation well out of tune with modern thinking and one that really does not deserve any attention in their busy and noisy world.. And sadly, many in the church are still not happy with such a decision.
Large organisations are unwieldy things. They create complex hierarchies, rules and protocols and become self-satisfied. Most dangerously they become inflexible in their attitudes and ability to adapt to changes in the world. And the history of commerce is littered with stories of once successful organisations that died in the face of agile competition and fresh thinking. We only have to look at the decline of the UK’s car industry over the last 40 years to cite a perfect example of an organisation doomed to failure, its renaissance occurring only through foreign intervention.
In the gospels I read, Jesus never said anywhere go forth and create large inflexible hierarchical male-dominated organisations that invent complex rules and exclude half of my flock from rising through the ranks. He went and met the people at their point of need and we as churches sometimes forget that and get bogged down in PCC decision making on the state of the guttering, pew retention and personal agendas.
There is much good taking place in the Anglican Church and many are working hard for a fresh approach to getting across the message of hope and love that Christ brought into the world. The Titanic was a large and unwieldy structure, unable to respond quickly to avoid its impending disaster. And the thought of passengers re-arranging the deckchairs as that disaster approached is a good metaphor for our beloved church. Let us not look back in 40 years’ time and coin a new phrase, ‘re-arranging the pews in the nave.’