It is not the end for the Anglicans!

Turning the Tide

I have been doing some reading of the 2013 census results and I wonder what a new future would look like for the Anglican Church. Its a church I grew up in and still have a love.  I realise that the 21st century holds challenges for the Anglican Church in New Zealand. But I still believe that the Anglican Church can turn these challenges into opportunities for mission.

According to the 2013 Census, the face of New Zealand society is changing. 25% of the population was born overseas. One in eight is of Asian ethnicity. There are an increasing number of Europeans, Africans and Pacific Islanders living in this country. New Zealand has become multi-cultural with diverse cultural values and religious beliefs. With the influx of other religions, an increase in secularism and the decline of Christianity, New Zealand has lost its Christian culture. It can no longer regard itself as a Christianised society. The Church is now at the fringe and not at the heart of society. The Anglican Church is no longer the largest denomination in New Zealand as its numbers continue to decline. There is no longer a loyalty to the denomination, rather, people are choosing a church that either meets their needs, or suits their family.

This has created the challenge for the Anglican Church to return to its fundamental mission of making disciples. The Anglican Church must adapt to the rapidly changing world of today without losing its faithfulness to the unchanging Word of God and its rich heritage founded on scripture, reason and traditions. This is where I believe the Church needs to place its focus in order to prepare the Church to face the 21st century.

Learning to interpret the 21st century society
Today’s society is rapidly changing through its diverse ethnicities, a mozaic of cultures and a variety of religious beliefs and practices. It is also being changed by an increased use of technology and the internet, an expanding circle of knowledge and choices, an increasing awareness of global issues like wars, poverty, sexuality, environmental issues, etc. For the Anglican Church to be relevant to society, there is a need to educate and equip the Church to better understand and serve the communities that it is in with God’s grace. The Anglican Church is no longer the dominant church in New Zealand and must learn to adapt to new face of society in order to be sensitive to its needs. There is also a growing need in this country to understand how the Church should honour the Treaty of Waitangi and maintain bicultural partnership in this 21st century setting of multiculturalism.

Tikanga Pakeha, which has been synonymous with New Zealand Europeans, will need to relook at what it means to be dioceses in a multi cultural setting. Parishes in areas with a high concentration of ethnic groups face the challenge of not just being relevant and welcoming to these ethnic groups but making changes to accommodate them within the parish. Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pacifica also face challenges in reaching the various generations within their cultures. With the changing trends in our society, the challenge facing these two Tikanga is huge as they attempt to be relevant to the younger generations who are influenced by the new face of New Zealand society. The Anglican Church, in its three Tikanga context, must understand these changes in society to better understand the communities they are ministering to.

• Learning what the God of mission is doing in our dioceses and parishes
When the Church understands the society it is in, it can then begin to see what God is doing in the world. God entered the world to start His work of redemption; and He continues to engage with the world in order to redeem it. This means the Anglican Church needs to be more incarnational in its approach by moving from what God is doing within its churches to what God is doing in the world. It would mean learning how to put into practice the five marks of mission, which is incorporated in the constitution of the three Tikanga Church, as it partners with God in society.

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, the Church must first learn to live the Good News in the world. The Church does that by responding to human need through loving service, seeking to transform unjust structures of society, challenging violence of every kind and pursuing peace and reconciliation, and striving to safeguard the integrity of creation, sustaining and renewing the life of the earth. By doing this, the church partners with God to love and serve a broken world.

Redeeming the sacred
When the Church starts partnering with God in a broken world, parishes and dioceses are reshaped to become mission-focussed. Change becomes inevitable as the Church learns how to remain faithful to Scripture and the essentials of Anglicanism yet develop new forms of church that differ from existing ones. This is not something new for the Anglican Church. It has gone through a number of painful moments where it had to ‘die’ to old liturgy and practices in order to give life to new forms of liturgy and practices. To redeem the sacred there is a need to educate churches to develop new forms of liturgy and practices so that it still holds on to its rich forms of worship while remaining relevant to the people it is trying to reach and disciple.

The chorus of an old song that we used to sing when I was a youth best sums up what I have expressed in this statement.

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

By learning how to keep in step with the Lord of the Dance, whilst using Scripture, tradition and reason to shape our theological and missiological education, the Anglican Church in New Zealand will have a positive influence in our society and beyond.

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