Past not wantedMay 22nd, 2005 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Church of Ireland Comment
Sometimes I wonder if I was born too late.
If I had been born 15-20 years earlier, it might be easier to cope with life now. It would have been late enough to have availed of the educational opportunities offered to those from non-privileged backgrounds in the post-war era, but early enough not to have to worry about the challenges I now face.
The Church of Ireland, in which I was ordained in 1986, is visibly disappearing at an increasing speed. The fact that this is happening to all mainstream churches is of no consolation! The old traditions, the familiar ways of doing things, the ties of community and faith are rapidly breaking down.
Churches, which even 10 years ago were filled with people of all ages, are now becoming the preserve of retired people. If the present rate of decline continues, there will be nothing left by my scheduled retirement date of 30th June 2026.
I don’t know how to respond to the problem. Well, being honest, I don’t know how to respond to the problem without going through painful changes. There are plenty of churches that are vibrant and growing and full of people of all ages, but they are very different from my traditional, comfortable, middle of the road Anglicanism. It would take a very painful transformation for me and the members of Saint Matthias’ Parish to move from where we are, to becoming a church of the future. How would we cope with the worship and the commitment and the worldview of the new churches?
I suspect many, if not most, people in my church would be apprehensive about making the necessary change. We feel happier and more secure with the familiar and I think most of us hope it will continue long enough to do us our day.
I remember listening to a radio item, ten years ago or more, in which the speaker said that the true test of a leader is whether he can lead people where they don’t want to go.
Perhaps the test of leadership now is persuading people to let go of the past in order that there might be a future.