Pilgrims And Midwives At Blackburn

I went to Blackburn: to give a retreat at Whalley Abbey, the William Temple Lecture at the cathedral, and a church leaders training day at Preston. The lecture was titled 'Pilgrimage, Place and Hospitality'. You can download it as William Temple lecture.... In the lecture I used pilgrimage as a symbol of a church that listens to and journeys with God. The enlarged Anglican Diocese of Blackburn, like most other dioceses, has sharply falling numbers, and the challenge that some who stay at their post don't want the posts to change. It has a bishop in his first year. At the conclusion of my lecture the Bishop stood up and gave a heartfelt message: 'I want to take the Diocese on a pilgrimage...'

In the training day we explored the demise of Christendom and what is coming to birth. One of the participants, a Vicar named Gill Mack, emailed an article she wrote for her parish magazine. Extracts follow:

Gerald and I have just spent two days in the presence of and under the instruction of Ray Simpson. The first of the two days was a quiet day at Whalley Abbey. It was fully booked and attended by clergy and lay people from all over the Diocese and beyond. The second was at Tabor, a Carmelite Retreat Centre in Preston, and was for clergy and lay-readers. Both days were exciting, stimulating and disturbing.

Ray outlined his belief, and the belief of many others, that Christendom as we know it is coming to an end. The days of established religion are past their sell by date and largely numbered. He said that there were three ways of responding to the crisis: 1. To resist change and to wither away. 2. To manage change and decline efficiently. 3. To allow what is in the heart of God for his Church at this time to come to birth. His words were music to my ears. I have long believed that the Church is in the middle or even towards the end of a great transition. As an ex-midwife I liken it to the transition phase of human birth: the painful and dangerous time before the end of the first stage of labour and the time when the mother is about to enter into the active phase of pushing the new baby out into the world.

St Paul makes reference to childbirth when he says that the whole creation is in the birth-pangs of a new age. That's undoubtedly where the Christian Church is: in all its traditions and denominations. The Church, as always, is in the process of dying and of being born again. We, both clergy and laity, are to be faithful to that which is passing away, and welcoming to that which is being brought to birth. We are in this transition time to be both bereavement sitters and midwives. But the time is soon coming when a new way of being church will emerge. Ray Simpson believes that we would do well to look at what the Celtic Movement has to offer and to take on a new paradigm that lends itself to Celtic spirituality.

What would a Church based on a new Celtic paradigm look and feel like? It would be:

* Relational rather than hierarchical

* Spiritual rather than purely rational

* Explorative rather than possessive or defensive

* Inclusive rather than exclusive.

* Culture friendly rather than anachronistic.

* Holistic rather than fragmented

* Earth-centred rather than Ego-centred.

To many of us that may be an exciting prospect, even though the challenge would be enormous. To others such a change would be catastrophic: especially those who look to the Church to be an unchanging stability in a changeable and unstable world. But the church is changing, whether we like it or not, welcome it or not. We will all need a fundamental reappraisal of attitudes and practices, which we will be nothing less than a new re-formation. It will mean seeing Christianity more as a "Way of Life" rather than allegiance to an established religion.

In the year left to me, before I retire from parish ministry, I should like to explore more fully the place of Celtic spirituality in the life of the Christian Church. I want to go on a Celtic journey of exploration. If there is anyone interested in sharing the journey, please let me know. Your parish priest and companion, Gill.

Posted at 01:58am on 17th September 2014
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