Trooping the FX Colour

Last week, during the celebrations of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, my son and I both accidentally watched the Trooping of the Colour on telly. We’d both just sat down for a break from the day’s activities, him in Winchester, me in Lincoln, and surfed until we found something which looked interesting. Steve, who is currently training for ordained pioneer ministry in the C of E, rang me later in the day and we got to reflecting on the event, which neither of us had seen before in all its glory. We got to asking the question, which I’m sure many of my readers must have pondered long and hard themselves,  ‘What would a Fresh Expression of the Trooping of the Colour’ look like?

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My immediate reaction was ‘You’ll be lucky!’ We’ve always done it this way, with its pomp, dressing up in ridiculous uniforms, outdated music, strange jargon, impenetrable hierarchy and unalterable precision. And all that, of course, is exactly what people love, and why the crowds turn out to watch it. It’s what makes people feel ‘proud to be British’, with our history of military domination and imperialism. I simply couldn’t imagine (and to be fair neither could Steve) what a Fresh Expression would look like.

On further reflection, however, one motif from this ceremony really struck me. Many of the people marching around  Horseguards’ Parade had, a few months earlier, been on active service in some of the most troubled parts of our world. The point was made more than once that the skills learned on the parade ground were the same skills which made soldiers so effective, and indeed might even have saved their lives,  on the battlefield. Not of course that they march around the mountains of Afghanistan wearing bright red tunics and playing the tuba, but character attributes like discipline, teamwork, precision, unquestioning obedience, pride in quality and so on are exactly the things which, when learned on the square, can prove so vital in war.

There is a very big question around helping the strange and arcane things we do in the churches of our land on Sunday mornings to be expressed in some fresh ways, and whether that is even possible, given our attraction to ‘the way we’ve always done it’. But I wonder whether there is a prior question. What are we instilling into Christian disciples on a Sunday morning which might quite literally be life-savers when they get onto the battlefield?

What’s Church For? Church as ‘Old Folks’ Club’ Part 2

Last week I ventured the suggestion that the church, or at least my Anglican bit of it, had an elderly culture, and I suggested that this was due at least in part to the fact that we don’t really feel happy with young leaders, and that we don’t have a convincing culture of retirement. I want to say more about both these issues, so let me begin with the first.

At least 20 years ago I heard a talk from some hierarch from Church House in which we were told that the C of E had come to its senses and ceased the policy of sending young ordinands back into the ‘secular’ world to get a bit of experience. Not surprisingly those who were told to ‘come back when you’re 35’ seldom did, as they had settled into life with a family, a career (and a decent salary to go with it) and so on. But as far as I can gather this policy is still alive and well. My friend Ian Paul discusses this very subject in his blog: http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/encouraging-younger-ordinands/ . He quotes from Bob Jackson who claims that

the loss of young ordinands has been a major self-inflicted wound from which the Anglican Church is suffering and that the loss of young clergy has been a major cause of both the ageing and the shrinking of congregations.

The average age of ordinands is around 40, which means that after training and a curacy we don’t really have church senior leaders under 45. And as I said last week chronological age isn’t the whole story: at least some ordinands have been thoroughly socialised into Anglican elderliness long before they ever get let loose on a parish. If you think that ‘You shall go out with joy’ is the cutting edge of contemporary worship that’s a good warning sign.

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Key gatekeepers in the ordination process are the DDOs (Diocesan Directors of Ordinands), who apparently vary in their understanding of the need for ‘Fresh Expressions’ of church, or of the role of the newly created ‘Ordained Pioneer Ministry’ pathway to ordination. So the default mode can easily be that we continue to select and train those who ‘look the part’ in terms of inherited modes of church. Better safe than sorry.

The church is trying hard to promote younger vocations to ordained ministry, with its ‘Call Waiting’ website (callwaiting.org.uk) and regular open days and events. But in spite of some healthier statistics so far the landscape seems to be changing very slowly, and I wonder whether more might be done in terms of deliberate targeting of the kind of churches which are full of young people in their teens and twenties. Sadly many of these churches do not always work hard at celebrating their Anglicanism, which makes their potential ordinands an even riskier proposition, so there may be an even bigger job to be done in winning the hearts of younger people, to whom denominations mean very little, to the Anglican cause.

Of course this all sounds terribly ageist, and of course I’m not wanting to say that we only need young clergy. But I do believe that there is an immense imbalance to correct. This is not just about who feels called to ordination: this is about the heart of the church, which has grown old and tired and which desperately needs an injection of the sorts of things which younger people can bring. But I also believe that we need to work at the other end of the spectrum too, and think hard about the lack of a culture of retirement. Come back next week!