Is there a future for the Anglican church beyond 2040? | Jeff Nowers | Nov 17, 2019
Can you imagine a day when this church building will be nothing but a razed pile of rubble? How about a day when every Anglican church in this city is reduced to a mound of bricks? If you were around to witness this, how would it impact your own Christian faith?
Some of you may have heard about a recent report of statistical trends in the Anglican Church of Canada. It’s very sobering. The report projects “that there will be no members, attenders or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040.” Between 1960-2000, the number of Anglicans across Canada decreased by 50%; between 2000-2015, the numbers dropped another 25%. The report then offers a very pessimistic verdict: “Given that we have not been able to address this decline in the last 60 years, it is unlikely that we are going to turn it around in the next 20 years.”
Now, it’s not accurate to conclude that there will be no Anglicans at all in 2040. There will be. I’m expecting to be one of them, probably adjusting to retirement (Lucy’s retirement will be well underway). But when we look at the bigger picture from a national standpoint, Anglicans are in trouble. We’re hemorrhaging. We’ve pretty much lost most of my generation—Generation X—and so much of the millennial generation has virtually no religious roots or memory. Our buildings are slowly emptying out as people die or perhaps question the importance of the church in their lives. All of this does suggest that many of our churches are destined to become rubble.
Around 2,000 years ago, Jesus offered his own projection on the state of the “church.” In today’s Gospel, he forecasts the destruction of the Temple. He anticipates a time in the not-too-distant future of his day when the Temple—the physical center of religious life for all the people—is razed to the ground. Nothing will be left but a pile of bricks and stones. It’s a sobering prediction because it presents a major crisis. Since Jewish faith was deeply entwined with Temple practices, how could Jews continue to be Jews without a Temple? How could the people carry on?
These kinds of questions would’ve certainly been on the minds of Jesus’ own followers as they listened to his prediction. They had a love-hate relationship with the Temple. Jesus’ followers had spent enough time with him to recognize that the Temple had become a place of institutionalized class hierarchy. It reinforced much of the social oppression that the people endured under Roman rule. And yet the Temple remained the house of God, where prayers and sacrifices were made. News of its destruction would be devastating.
Jesus tells his followers that life in the period before the Temple’s destruction will be hard. Social conflict will intensify. Physical calamities will wreak havoc. Many fraudulent people will emerge saying, “I am”—claiming to speak in the name of Israel’s God, YHWH. And they, Jesus warns, will be the driving force behind a wave of persecution. Jesus’ followers are to expect being arrested and imprisoned, even when close family members turn their backs on them—all because they follow the Way of Jesus that cuts through the heart of power.
Why does Jesus forecast all this doom and gloom? An obvious reason is to warn his followers. But there’s also almost a sense of resignation that it must be this way. For all that the Temple fulfilled in the spiritual life of the people, it had reached its end. It needed to go. If we were to continue reading further beyond today’s Gospel, we’d find that Jesus’ predictions take an even darker turn. But then he ends with these words: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” As tragic and unsettling the destruction of the Temple is, it doesn’t obliterate hope. There is a future on the other side.
What about for us? Is there an Anglican future if our church is projected to be as good as dead in 20 years? A quick Yes is not an honest answer. We need to recognize that tough times are ahead. Some shrinking parishes will be amalgamated with other parishes, and some will simply cease to exist. In fact, more may cease to exist than we’re prepared to acknowledge. This will be especially challenging in rural areas where Anglican churches are even now becoming more sparse. To be a person of Christian faith will require of us more intentionality. If buildings like this one will no longer be around to foster our gathering, then we must find ways to gather on our own—in public places and by opening up our homes.
What I’m getting at is this: we must shift our understanding of “church” away from buildings to people. St. Aidan’s Anglican Church will be thriving well beyond 20 years from now if the identity of our parish is defined by all of us who gather in the building. For all the talk of the demise of the Anglican Church of Canada, we’re planning to renovate our building because we see a real future for ourselves as a congregation here in the Beach. But what good is a beautifully renovated building if we don’t fill it with life and vitality? St. Aidan’s is first and foremost all of us; it is the people. If we remain committed to one another, sharing our time and skills and money, trusting each other, caring for one another, loving one another—and that same love overflows into our neighborhood—I believe St. Aidan’s will be alive and well for many decades to come. And at that point it may be time to renovate this building once again to meet the demands of ministry in this location.
Meanwhile, there’s lots of work to be done. The light of the Good News that shines through us is meant to illumine not just the southwest corner of Queen and Silver Birch. Let it shine in our homes, in our workplaces, throughout our city, and throughout the world.