Yesterday, I found myself writing to someone, in the exchange of happy new year greetings, ‘I expect it will be a challenging year for us all’. This morning, I’m wondering what I meant – after all, being a half-glass-full kind of person this sounded too gloomy for my liking.
The context is important – it was with someone else involved in the regional and national workings of our Baptist life in the UK. The reality is this is the year the recession is going to bite upon, (not simply the church, which is an important point to note), any of us dependent upon charitable giving. I don’t know of a Baptist Association, or Anglican Diocese, which does not have a significant deficit budget. Last years losses have been absorbed to a lesser, or greater degree – not without pain, but relatively not too bad. Nationally, the deficits are growing too – it seems as if the gap between aspiration and reality will grow this year to a point where it is undeniable. Pension funds are under serious strain – again not simply a church problem, but one, which will challenge some long held assumptions.What seems apparent to me – and here is where my optimism returns with a vengeance – is that the institutions are creaking. We’ve been saying it’s been happening for years, but the impact of the shifting sands on which our pre-dominant cultures are built, are beginning to take effect. I speak to many pastors who reflect on their deep concerns for the future - even of the churches of which they are a part. We struggle with the impact, upon their local window, of the playing out of post-modernism, but now we’re seeing the wider impact. The challenges are with us – we need to find new ways of being. There are, in the midst of all this, many signs of hope, life and people on the way. In 2010, will we choose to put our trust in being part of the movement of God, or the institutions of God’s people? The life of faith, or the life of religion? All that said, I am more optimistic today than I was ten years ago. I still think many churches are in danger of closure over the next ten years, but the openness to the gospel is a growing reality among those, as yet, beyond the Church.