TO BEGIN PLANNING FOR POST THE HOST AT ITS 2008 CONGRESS AT THE AMMERDOWN CONFERENCE CENTRE. IT TOOK UNTIL APRIL 2009 TO LAUNCH THIS EXCITING NEW MINISTRY FOR GOD.
The main denominational churches are in freefall. Attendances are in terminal decline; calls for baptisms, marriages and funerals are plummeting. Only the church is surprised. It does not see that its image has suffered irreparably: on the one hand from division, sexism and homophobia; on the other from the peddling of outdated approaches to the fundamental spiritual needs of our age. Thousands of people long to find meaning in the Christian tradition, but are repelled by the empty sanctimony of a faith choked by its own prejudices, hypocrisy and conceit.
Secularism has denuded education of religious experience; mass media has satiated us recreationally and advances in electronic communication keep us always in touch. In this modern setting, congregational worship and church membership hold no obvious appeal to the general public.
There is an urgent need for comprehensive reform in religious provision. The Open Episcopal Church is at the vanguard of this change. Rooted in the apostolic tradition, it sets out to capture that which is best in our contemporary philosophical and spiritual understanding and to discard that which is worst.
Our vision is encapsulated in the scripture: ‘There is no Jew or Greek, servant or free, male or female: because you are all one in Jesus Christ.’ Unity, equality and diversity sit at the heart of the life of our church: Christ’s message of universal love is interpreted in simple yet radical ways which have put us at the forefront of a religious revolution that has begun to sweep the country.
The central act of ‘Communion’ and the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ is made available to anyone and everyone without the prerequisite of Baptism and Confirmation. This not only means all Christians, including children and babies, but those of other persuasions.
This inclusive principle governs everything. While the established church tears itself apart in its inability to welcome diversity, our holy orders are open to all irrespective of gender or sexual identity.
We bless alike the unions of heterosexual couples and those of other sexual identities. This demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all, helped generate the groundswell of social support for same gender partnerships, which gave birth to the new laws governing Civil Partnerships in this country in 2005.
Some of us are itinerant after the apostolic model, liberating the gospel from the confines of parochial masonry, bringing the sacraments of Christian love into people’s homes, gardens and community centres, baptising children and celebrating marriage in ways accessible to ordinary families who cannot abide the stuffiness of their parish church.
We do not require adherence to a particular interpretation of the Christian tradition. Religious language negotiates mystery and we acknowledge, as did the desert mystics, that no story, doctrine or culture can adequately encompass the divine. Freedom in thought, in worship and in ministry is encouraged.
Our social concern sees our church working with the homeless, supporting development projects, caring for addicts, helping rehabilitate offenders, running mental health projects, stopping as ‘Good Samaritans’ to help those with roadside troubles, taking the Mass to sex workers.
The church for us is not defined just as a local worshipping community or by an organisation, but as the life of God abroad throughout society and within all people. So all play their part in the quest towards God and for us those who work for good are welcome as members.
We are not interested in size, in power or in money, nor in becoming immersed in the traditional squabbles of Christendom. Ours is a more urgent mandate in Christ; to be open to the Holy Spirit’s ingenuity to remodel form and structure so that the vital inheritance of Christianity is not lost for this generation.