The Rectory, April 2001
Another eccentric Opinion Poll! I’m sure you will have been fascinated to learn last month that the Prime Minister is the most influential personality in the field of religion and, joy oh joy for the media, the Archbishop of Canterbury only came sixth, with the Pope trailing in eighth place. Great fun I’m sure, but not really hugely significant.
My guess is that if most individuals were asked the completely open question as to who had been most influential in their lives with regard to spiritual and religious things, most would answer parents or, in some cases, individuals who have crossed their paths at some point and had an indelible effect on them. And the Archbishop of Canterbury, and very probably the Pope would be quick to agree with that, and would happily remain in sixth or eighth position in anyone’s list! I fear the Prime Minister - any prime minister - would be unlikely to feature anywhere at all in such a list!
But it is interesting - well actually, more than interesting, it’s really quite important - to ask the question ‘How does the Church and how do church leaders influence people, especially those beyond the regular congregations?’ What is the image that we are presenting to the world?
There has been a lot of controversy in recent years about publicity campaigns mounted at major festivals by the communications teams of the Church of England and in other churches. “Naff” has been a word not far from the lips of quite a lot of people. Sloganisation is in, in most compartments of society, as are sound-bites, and we have felt it necessary to compete. Many church buildings are bedecked with faintly amusing (or not) puns and clichés, we have battled it out over ‘corporate image’ - common letterheads, natty logos and so on - and one has to ask, has it had the desired effect (whatever that was)? Hmmm. Pass.
The battle to get our message across is absolutely crucial to our survival, but more important than that, it is crucial for the well-being of the world. The ethical dilemmas facing the whole breadth of our society are ever-increasing and ever more complicated. The accepted markers and checkpoints that have withstood the test of time over many centuries - of which the Church has been the guardian of many - are no longer readily accessible to a secularised society. And yet the single most potent ‘sound-bite’ is that which we proclaim this month, and forms the foundation of our faith: CHRIST IS RISEN, ALLELUIA!
That is what we have to offer, as a community of faith. We would do well to spend more time reflecting on the meaning of our claim in the context of the suffering of the world and living out its implications, than playing at being a thoroughly modern media-friendly fun-filled fairground (though we should be able to do a bit of that as well!)
In 1936, the Doctrine Commission published a report, after fourteen years of deliberation. It remains one of the best statements of Anglican doctrine available. Here in summary are its four key points about the Resurrection of Christ:
Unless we have confidence in this fundamental teaching of our faith, and are willing to stand by it, and live by it (and it is, of course, by the way we live our lives that we shall be judged) no amount of fiddling with our image will change anything. We have all we need at our fingertips.