Friday, 16 November 2007

Whither the Church of England?

*Dying Church of England Women Ordinations Now Outstrip Men*

“What is left in this nation is a spiritual vacuum" says critic.

By Hilary White LONDON, November 15, 2007 (LifeSiteNews. com) –

For the first time, the Church of England reports that more women than men were ordained in 2006. Last year 244 women and 234 men were ordained in the Church of England, but the majority of paid pastoral positions have gone to men with women taking mostly voluntary posts. The total number of ordained ministers in the Church of England is now estimated to be 20,354, including clergy, readers and Church Army officers.The Daily Telegraph reports Sunday attendance in the feminized, mostly ultra liberal Church dipped for the first time below one million out of a total population of almost 51 million. The slight drop in attendance follows two years in which numbers increased or remained steady. About 1.7 million people attend a Church of England church each month, while around 1.2 million attend services each week, and just under one million each Sunday.Acceptance of women into the priesthood, which The General Synod approved in 1992, has not halted the decline in Church membership and has likely accelerated the trend. The move has been identified by many as a break with the historic stream of Christianity as significant as the separation of the English Church from its Catholic origins.The General Synod is currently debating whether women clergy should now even be elevated to the episcopate as they are in other Anglican national branches. While the number of women applying for the ministry continues to grow, the number of men seeking ordination is decreasing. A recent report indicates that the number of men serving as ministers may drop in half by 2025.

American Baptist writer Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and board member of Focus on the Family, wrote that the “feminization of the church” is the equivalent of the liberalization of the church. He points to the fact that in the US Episcopal Church, the number of women enrolled in Master of Divinity programs now represents almost a third of total enrolment with the mainline Protestants groups following suit. “In many liberal seminaries, women students now vastly outnumber men.”

Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent at the London Times wrote, “The feminization of the ministry is one of the most significant trends of this generation. Acceptance of women in the pastoral role reverses centuries of Christian conviction and practice. It also leads to a redefinition of the church and its ministry. Once women begin to fill and represent roles of pastoral leadership men withdraw. This is true, not only in the pulpit, but in the pews. The evacuation of male worshippers from liberal churches is a noticeable phenomenon.”Some writers are pointing to the weakening of the Church of England as a warning sign for British sovereignty and independence. As the officially established church, the Church of England plays a significant role in Britain’s political and social make-up and has an impact on its distinctiveness from its European neighbours.

Joel Hilliker, writing in the Trumpet, says that the religious erosion of Britain has eroded British national identity. “Secularism has Britain by the throat,” he writes.“The percentage of practicing Christians there is in the single digits. The Church of England has lost moral authority, loosening its standards on issues such as the ordination of women as priests, premarital cohabitation and homosexuality.”With the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), an organisation with 400,000 members formally requesting “full, corporate and sacramental union” with the Roman Catholic Church, and many Anglicans seeking union with Rome individually, the Protestant Hilliker writes, “What is left in this nation is a spiritual vacuum — a vacuum that provides the Church of Rome the perfect opportunity to move in. For as Britain has become more liberal, Roman Catholicism has grown more conservative, increasingly presenting itself as a rock of stability in an uncertain world.”

Comment -- There is a sociological thesis that explains the decline of the Christian churches in the West by pointing to a growing "feminisation" in the churches. This feminisation alienates men from congregational life and results in fewer overall attendees as the wives of these men acquiesce to their husband's lack of participation and absent also themselves (and their children) from church. Some proponents trace this trend back as far as the late middle ages, while others view it as a distinctly modern phenomenon tied to industrialisation and its impact upon relations between the sexes (I'm inclined to favour the latter explanation).
The problem, of course, is not with women's participation in church life per se, I hasten to add, but rather with a perceived imbalance towards the feminine in church life which makes many men uncomfortable and inclined to withdraw their participation. I'm sure many pastors could testify that this phenomenon is indeed a "problem" in church life that requires addressing.
I regard the ordination of women as symptomatic of this problem (and also contrary to scriptural teaching). Contrary to conventional opinion, the ordination of women is therefore not a panacea for declining churches, but is likely to exascerbate that decline. In the same way, liberalisation of the church's view of homosexual relationships and ordination of openly homosexual clergy is also sending the completely wrong signals.
In short, the quandary the Church of England has gotten itself into by ordaining women could easily have been predicted years ago by those who subscribe to this thesis and the situation is only likely to get worse if the larger issue is not addressed, and short of a collapse of our present way of ordering life, I see little chance of that happening.
The moral of this cautionary tale is, I think, clear: churches which have not ordained women, beware!
Thanks to Peter Kriewaldt for this article.

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