Times Online (England), May 19, 2003
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Members of the Western Church exhibit boredom, greed and indifference, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr Rowan William says that too many people are “hereditary” Christians who have inherited their belief from their forebears as if it were “something obvious”.
Western Christians must recapture a sense of joy and wonder in the nature of God and to learn from countries where faith is newer and more vibrant to recapture the “expectant joy of Christ”, he says.
His criticisms, disclosed in The Times today, are made in the first issue of a quarterly journal, Rethinking Mission, published jointly by the Methodist Church and USPG, a mission agency of the Anglican Church in Britain and Ireland working in more than 50 countries.
The Northern Church has “gone cold” on its sense of mission, he says. Holy Communion is more than “a lump of divine stuff that we can take home and keep in a cupboard”. He urges the Church to learn from the Orthodox Church, which describes the Eucharist as “life, light and fire”. Dr Williams says: “It all feels rather different from a little piece of bread.”
He says that Christians in the South or developing world, where mission agencies such as USPG have traditionally been most active, experience a joy and surprise at being “wanted” by God that is lacking in the Northern or Western Church.
“Inheriting Christian belief as if it were something obvious is one recipe for losing the edge of surprise and shock about being wanted,” he writes. “Part of the history of the Church, not just in these islands but of the Church in many other parts of the world, is the creeping sense that it is not at all surprising that God should want us. God after all has excellent taste! Why should God not want us?” When the sense of being astonished by God has fallen away, he continues, “we look at one another with boredom and anxiety rather than with the expectant joy of Christ”.
“And we look, of course, at the world around us with boredom, greed, indifference, exploitation or whatever, and we don’t look at it first and foremost as the Earth God wanted.”
He says that the Church needs to rediscover its sense of mission and asks why it is “that the Church as a body seems to have gone cold in so much of the Northern world on the subject of mission and what might be ways of renewing it”? His remarks come a few days after the Church of England’s London diocese admitted that it was close to bankruptcy and would soon be running a deficit of £1 million if members did not give more.
Even though its church-goers are the most generous in the country, the London diocese ended last year £500,000 in the red.