Structures for the Church: Reshaping the Christian Mission to our Ancient Western Nations, by David Berry. Reviewed by George Rendell
Structures for the Church: Reshaping the Christian Mission to our Ancient Western Nations, by David Berry.
Gilead Books, 2008, 84 pages, ISBN 978-0-9558099-0-3, £10.00.
Reviewed by George Rendell
The central theme of the book is that the parish church came into being at a time when people lived in the community that it served. It was therefore the appropriate church structure for mission in the community; spreading the good news of Jesus, being salt and light, making a difference in society. Now that the majority of people are more mobile this community no longer exists in the same way so the parish church is unable to fulfil its mission. (The author acknowledges that he is writing from an Anglican perspective but points out that the same can be said of many churches that have grown up alongside the parish church.)
From this central theme comes a description of a new model for the Church of England, abolishing parishes and deaneries, decreasing the number of dioceses and increasing the number of provinces. Parishes and deaneries disappear because they do not fulfil their mission potential. They are replaced by ‘catchments’ and ‘substations’. The number of dioceses is scaled down to reduce the overhead burden. They are grouped into provinces which would be set up for mission to the wider region in which people live and work.
In his introduction the author states, ‘The proposals I make are for very specific grassroots change. I believe they have to be written out in a blueprint style to stir the imagination of the majority who worship in our churches.’ The new model has its attractions: The parish church can be adapted to serve the community in new ways (a whole section is devoted to examples); it becomes a substation, a place for assembling on a Sunday before travelling to the catchment; the burden of maintaining the parish church is lifted from the scores of people who then have time for discipleship training and engagement in mission. The catchment is a large central place where people gather from a wide area for worship each week; it is situated in a readily accessible place where people naturally spend time for shopping, leisure, work etc.
Will this model ‘stir the imagination of the majority who worship in our churches’? There is much in this short book to stimulate discussion. Any hint that a church might be adapted or closed always provokes discussion! Whether it will reach a wide audience is open to question. Its A4, large print format makes it easy to read, the maps and tables are useful summaries but the pencil sketches, though adding interest make the book feel dated. Its length makes it readable in one sitting but some of the background material is therefore very brief. Some references to other more detailed material would be helpful to some, e.g. for those interested in following up the statement ‘Mission should dictate the shape of the church; not the other way round’; for those interested how the church developed (and failed to keep) with changes in our society; and for those interested in the development of society and the way people live their lives today.
George Rendell works for the Strategy Support Team, Bristol Diocese.
This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 12 in July 2010.