'Presence is such a delicious word' says Gordon Fee, someone I believe, who has probably done more than most to explore what that word means in terms of Biblical theology. God's presence in what we consider to be 'place' is key to understanding the Biblical narrative. 'The Word became a human being and moved into the neighbourhood...' is how Eugene Peterson expresses John 1: 14 - probably the most important verse in the Bible from the Christian perspective.
I am an Anglican type Christian because I believe the presence of God in the neighbourhood - is something that matters to us.
As I write this the news is unfolding about 12 people being killed by a gunman in West Cumbria. Apart from key people like Police officers, local leaders and GP's, others being interviewed are local clergy. At times like this the Church is seen as an organisation that belongs to the community and can express the deep feelings of local people. These sort of occasions remind us that in some parts of the country our call as church to be connected to people in place and culture is still recognised and welcomed.
The C of E is still an organisation that wants to connect with local communities (however that is defined) but is unsure how to continue to do this. This call to 'Contextually sensitive mission' (Dan Hardy) is I think under threat. Externally the world has changed which means we have a very real issue relating to sustainability and growth. Internally we don't have the courage and vision where it is needed to make tough decisions which will tackle this issue. If you cannot the sustain the mission and grow it, then you have to look to your structure, staffing and your buildings.
The church because it is an incarnational organisation, so we keep saying to ourselves, means more about people and a presence in the neighbourhoodd than buildings. I am not saying close all the buildings but let the call to mission presence shape decisions about what buildings and structures we need and can afford.
The present mantra of 'Mixed economy' seems to be expressed in terms of 'please keep our buildings and traditions goings - and by the way - make us grow, attract children and youth, make more money to pay our Diocesan share and develop a fresh expression or three' etc
This is not a 'whinge' and I am sorry to sound a tad cynical. I say this because for various reaosns I have seen a number of job profiles recently for both Diocesan and Parish roles. I just want to see a rational and sensible discussion about sustainability and growth. The sort of discussion I have in another sector in which I am involved. In that sector we will not be allowed to keep things as they are. Change is not an option.
Do I think that the C of E is in danger of losing the vision of church as community for the 'non- member'. I am not sure - maybe you can help me with this. If we think we can keep buildings and structures as they are we are seriously deluding ourselves.
Please Cof E grasp this nettle - it is about who we are called to be. Presence is such a delicious word.