I could never count myself, even in my younger days, as one of life’s “Angry Young Men”. I was not bold enough to stand up to be counted with those who fought unpopular causes in the interests of justice or in the pursuit of change!. Strangely, and surprisingly, I am becoming an “Angry Old Man”. What is my problem? For this blog it is to do with Church, Methodism in particular – I am on familiar territory.
We are hearing that the church is only a short distance away from extinction: Lord Carey’s guess is probably one decade. So if the Church is to regain lost ground and survive, change is vitally essential and it is urgent. We are harangued by preachers, church leaders and writers about discovering new ways of being Church – “Fresh Expressions of Church” is how it is described, and Methodists are warned that we are being given a short breathing space to sort ourselves out. I have no quarrel with this – I want to keep change on the agenda. After all, one of the few things we can be certain about is that change is expected, inevitable and embraced. The changes that have taken place in my lifetime are mind-boggling. The hymn writer has us sing, Change and decay in all around I see – interestingly, he gives us the next line, O thou who changes not, abide with me! Now the church, whether we like it or not, is set in the midst of and is part of our secular society; there is no escaping it. Of this we can be certain, it is an environment of constant change and if church is to have an impact, any relevance at all, she will be open to whatever changes may be necessary to enable us fulfil our mission: to explore, to pursue, to engage in whatever new ways of “being Church” are appropriate in our particular neck of the woods.
No, I am not opposed to change: all my ministry I have advocated change, and in each of my larger churches there has been at least one activity that has been the consequence of a “Fresh Expression’” project, although we didn’t call it that. What irks me and angers me is the suggestion (sometimes in a whisper) that we who are of my vintage, or thereabout, refuse to face the need for change, and are determined to resist it totally. I recall reading somewhere, Change is all around, except in church where we find people who want to remain the same – a bastion of unchangeableness. For some change is easy – a challenge to keep up with the ever-changing world in which we now live. For others it is difficult, a painful move away from the familiar which dispels much-needed comfort. And because we are who we are, because church as we know it has meant and still means so much to us, we may well be slow to accept and respond to change – but, I say to those who rile me on this matter: that may be so – but do not accuse us “oldies” of placing obstacles in the way of reform in church. Why? Our commitment and devotion cannot be challenged. We have lived with change for years – yes – in church! I resist the temptation to fill a page telling the stories of the changes I have lived through, granted not as spectacular as today’s ambitious programmes, but change nonetheless. So, please, do not accuse us of being architects of the troubled waters of our current predicament, (to mix the metaphors). We in our generation (the old brigade), steeped in the traditions of church, immersed in its life and programme, who have stuck around, still keeping things going, may be a little slow, somewhat afraid of change and its upset – they love “their church”; they love their Lord, they have found joy, peace and a love reciprocated freely and tenderly and sometimes at cost. Veterans of the good fight, disappointed the battle is not yet won, they will not desert, they will continue faithful, even in the throes of big change.
Of course, not all change is good and not all decay is bad. But thank God for this:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13:8