Thursday, June 25, 2009

July 2009 - The Church Irrelevant

Dear friends


As a priest “Church” occupies a large part of my landscape. My faith and my profession are deeply intertwined. I can’t imagine what it may be like to live life out of touch with the Church, but increasingly society is filling up with people who do, and who don’t perceive any loss in this disconnection. For centuries the Church has operated in an environment in the West and in Africa where a connection – even if tenuous – has been the norm; evangelism and mission have focused on strengthening this connection, or on reconnecting people who have wandered off; society nurtured it. Increasingly urbanised society sees no inherent added value in religious connection, and if anything, perceives religion to be a limiting life experience.

At the June Equestria Family Breakfast discussion meandered around family values, Church, and reaching out to our peers. It became clear that for many young people the Church is perceived to be an outmoded social construct proclaiming an outdated moral lifestyle. For instance the Church’s teaching that sex should only be celebrated within marriage is looked on with disdain, and seen as a sign that the Church is lost in a puritan past, and therefore irrelevant to life in the 21st century.

As Church we believe that our moral outlook remains relevant, and yet our South African society – in which a majority of people still claim a Christian allegiance – demonstrates very little adherence to a Christian moral code. A recent survey conducted by the SA Medical Research Council (reported on 20 June 2009) found that just over 1 in 4 South African men admit to having raped, and just under half of these to having done so more than once. Many of the men surveyed had obtained some level of education and income.

And so the relevance of the Church to our society comes into question. We no longer influence our wider society to any meaningful degree.

We have relied for centuries on being politically powerful, on being the official religion of society in the West and in Africa since Constantine. The French Revolution led to the first marked societal move away from religion, and France today still guards its secular political dispensation with fierce doggedness (now under threat perhaps more from Islam than Christianity).

Where do we find our response? The answers lie not so much in the monarchical narratives of David and Solomon – as they have done for centuries – but increasingly in the stories of Israel’s time in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt, and in the experiences of a persecuted early Church. Our Christian faith, our existence as Church, needs radical review.

Family Life

Our response to the increasingly chaotic experience of family life in the 21st century is one road that may lead us towards a renewed relevance. Our diocesan theme of “turning houses into homes” provides a handhold. The months of May and June have provided us with three important family related events: our parenting workshop where Dr Mary Anne Harrop-Allin dealt with temperament (personality), self-esteem and relationship; our Ladies Weekend led by Dawn Long, Sabine Verryn and Olga Nel, where over twenty of our wives, mothers, daughters and grandmothers had the opportunity to spend time away from family commitments in worship, self-discovery and creativity; our Patronal Breakfast where we were able to celebrate being part of our wider Parish family over a relaxed meal.

The people of God since the time of Abraham have found relevance in relationship: with God, with each other, with the world. This can be true for us, in our time, and to our generation.


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