I recently spotted a letter to the editor (above) in our local newspaper, The Press.
What struck me was that pretty much every suggestion for improvement of the Anglican Church is already a reality.
The letter suggested that scriptures be read with an eye on the ancient context in which they were written – tick ✓.
That Anglicanism not be the established church in New Zealand – tick ✓.
That language, especially religious language, be understood to be metaphorical – tick ✓.
That reason be understood as a way that God communicates – tick ✓.
That atheists can have values which are akin to theists – tick ✓.
And that we have contemporary words and tunes in our singing – tick ✓.
It is a good list of misunderstandings of church by a genuinely interested, intelligent person. We can respond that the letter writer is poorly informed – or even make such a response a stronger attack against the writer. Or we can hear this as a genuine challenge to ourselves and the way we communicate.
When we come across a parish or diocesan website, in the “about” section of the site is there a simple explanation that we are an independent church, governed locally, not established…? Are there simple, attractive introductory (say) folded A4 sheets provided in our church buildings that explain our history, beliefs, and practices? Where do we provide easily accessible outlines of such things?
How often I hear preachers use tight theological language (“unbegotten Son of God”, “The Body of Christ”, “The Risen Christ”, “The Immaculate Conception”) or refer to Adam and Eve, or the Flood, without even the slightest acknowledgement that what is in the preacher’s head is significantly different to what is being understood by a lot of the hearers.
Tell me the name of the mother of Siddhartha Gautama. Some will not even be able to tell me who Siddhartha Gautama is. What is the essence of Siddhartha Gautama’s teaching? When did he live? Give me a quick outline of Siddhartha’s understanding of Dukkha.
If many people struggle to answer those questions, or (say) similar questions about Muhammad, why do we have the arrogance to assume that people will readily know the answers to that type of question when it comes to Jesus, Christianity, or the relatively-tiny number of Anglicans?
If we want information about Jesus and Christianity (and Anglicanism) known and understood, it is our responsibility to present that and to present it well and in an easily accessible manner.