Douglas Murray recently asked in his article for UnHerd, ‘Are we ready for an irreligious future?’ He noted, ‘That countries such as Britain are becoming increasingly atheistic can hardly be denied. For instance a British Social Attitudes survey published last year found that 53% of British adults described themselves as having no religious affiliation. Since the figure in the same survey in 2015 was 48%, this showed not only that in 2017 for the first time most British people had no religious affiliation, but that five percent had abandoned it in two years alone.’
He has a point of course – one that we would do well to note. So what is going on? On the same day, the current Archbishop, Justin Welby was asked in an interview for the Guardian, ‘Would disestablishment – the separation of church and state be a disaster?’ His reply was, ‘No, nothing is a disaster for God.’ Indeed not. The question is posed on the eve of the archbishop presiding over the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at St George’s Chapel in Windsor tomorrow. The main thrust of the interview was framed around the question of privilege – and whether that should continue to bestowed on the Church of England in our ever increasing pluralistic society..
So, is there any place for the church in the modern world? Can she hold her own amongst a plethora of alternatives? As a practitioner rather than a parishioner I believe the answer is yes – but she will have to work for it. And why not? The presumed role of Christianity can no longer be presumed. Respect is not something bestowed but earned. It’s not bad thing to have to build from a place of conviction rather than convenience – people tend to own what they’ve worked for.
For all those no longer affiliating with the established church there is a different story to be told. For sure the church will have to re calibrate and what will emerge is something very different to what we are leaving behind. Of my own community where I’ve served in ministry for the last two decades the church will look very different – smaller, leaner – but not of necessity less effective. What we will have is a rebirth of faith borne of people who belong to it because they believe in it. Such reality will allow its vibrancy to be felt by others because it won’t exist to serve its own agenda but rather the agenda of the community of which it’s a part.
You see this happening all the time. Community initiatives are breathing life back into localities and collaboration is allowing projects to flourish that would otherwise die. Will the church be as large in the future as in the past? Well I must be careful how I answer such a question! Will the church have numbers gathering for gatherings sake – I doubt it. Will it have a voice into the complexity of the modern world – on this matter I have no doubt. The question raised by Murray as to whether we will have a irreligious future is worthy of note – but regardless, we will have a future that contains mystery and where mystery exists spirituality thrives as a key factor in untangling the wonders of the universe for as Werner Heisenberg said, ‘The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.’
And on that note I must leave since the Christians of my City are gathering to pray as part of the Thy Kingdom Come initiative this evening and the event has sold out, that’s 1200 people going along to pray. It is true that there are less numbers of people attending churches – but of those that remain there is a passion to work out this faith in practice as is proven by the believe that faith can still bring positive change in lives and communities.