Following new Footsteps – A pathway for The Church of England from the Diocese of Leicester
In the document published by the Diocese of Leicester, they quote Oswald Chambers: “beware of harkening back to what you once were, when God wants you to be something that you have never been.” What a poignant message at this time when the future of the church hinges on the decisions we make next. Whilst reflection has always been a key element of faith, looking to the future is just as important, as we begin to identify our new normal.
The time of lockdown has put significant strain on many churches, both financially and emotionally. The upkeep of buildings which were left empty for many months has meant that some churches may be forced to close their doors on Sunday Services altogether and become useful only for weddings and funerals.
While these beautiful buildings are a historical part of our country’s rich heritage, the diocese of Leicester encourages the modern Christian to focus less on the tangible, and more on the intangible aspect of community that binds us as a church. The high Anglican architectural designs of the typical C of E church are landmarks and important testaments of our nation’s past commitment to Christ and the practice of his teachings. If we let them fall fallow, then where shall we meet and what message does it portray of the relevance of Christianity to our contemporary society?
As we move out of the restrictions, ‘The Church of Tomorrow’ lays out a slogan for the next step of the Anglican faith. “The Archbishops have presented us with three guiding words about the church of the future – a simpler, humbler and bolder church.” What excellent words to guide the future of the church as we return to some normality.
Jesus has called us to live boldly and practice humility. Simplicity is something that can often be overlooked but is extremely valuable. Christ took on the form of man to give us answers, not more questions, and to lay out a clear road for us to follow for our benefit and ultimately, our salvation. Simplicity is a worthy principle for the Church to pursue for a clean, bright, faith-filled future where the love of God is the main message we wish to teach, and our simple purpose is to proclaim the glory of God.
The guidance we refer to from the Diocese of Leicester, explains some steps they feel the church should take to become a church of the future, rather than of the past. Their first point is that churches should “be less about buildings and institutional structures and more about relationships.” Our relationship with God, our relationships with our leaders and with each other as people of faith is paramount to our wellbeing as a Christian community. It is also good news that the church will be moving away from the traditional, sometimes restricting institutional structures which can curb the natural enthusiasm for evangelism and spiritual growth in churches. A more free and connected church would be something to be thankful for.
The Diocese of Leicester clearly advocates looking outwards. Their guidance is to make churches more community orientated. They write that “inward-focused churches that exist primarily for the benefit and use of their members will diminish. Outward-focused churches that embrace their communities will be more likely to flourish.” Churches are so much more than just buildings. They connect us to the wider communities in which they stand. They can perform integral functions in our neighbourhoods and provide vital services that are needed not just on Sundays but all week long.
Perhaps churches will continue to reach people in virtual ways as well as physical meetings in the future. That can only be a good thing, but the lockdown has taught us that people have been starved of human contact. We now recognise how absolutely vital a handshake, or a hug can be. Therefore, physical meetings must still play a very important part, however sophisticated and digital we become.
The book of Revelation (22:17) tells us to “let the one who is thirsty come,” and however they “come” to Christ is the right path, be it in person or over zoom. The initial coming to Christ is one thing, but here follows the sustaining of faith and belonging to the faith community, and its place in the wider society. This means that it is our obligation and responsibility to provide a place for people to “come” and freely seek the “water of life”, and to grow into people who can share the love of God and his power to others. Ships now have digital navigation, but the lighthouse is still very relevant to their safety on dark nights. The church is a lighthouse in the darkness of life.
As Church architects, we believe that Christian buildings, when fit for purpose, can greatly serve the community and support the activity and outreach of a congregation. If you’re preparing to return to routine and would like to know more about the sustainability of your Church building, please get in touch with the JBKS team!