Isn’t it difficult not to compare sizes?
Last week I was in Oxford meeting with members of staff from Baptist colleges across the country. This week we’ve been inducting the new batch of ministerial students here at Luther-King House as well as starting the foundation module for all new students – Baptist, Methodist, URC, Unitarian, Pentecostal and few others - on our BA and MA programmes. In both settings it became apparent that size does matter. At least we found ourselves talking about it quite a bit.
It looks like all the Baptist colleges have reasonably healthy intakes of new students (ours is particularly big – for us anyway) but while peering over the urinal wall here in Manchester it became apparent that one of our partners is not especially well endowed. We only have one URC ministerial student starting training this year.
In fact it turns out that Nationally the URC have only six new ministerial students (four in England and two in Scotland). Now – and I know this is a big jump – this set me thinking about the viability of some of our historic denominations and indeed the desirability of a denominational future for the Church in this country.
How do emergent types feel about denominations? There would appear to be a bit of a tension here. On the one hand it almost goes without saying that there is a (sometimes naïve) anti-institutional stripe to most emergent attitudes to church. This would seem to put denominations beyond the pale. On the other hand a big part of the emergent psyche is an antipathy towards all things Modern. This comes with an attendant desire to reach back to the pre-modern and mine (or skim the surface more likely) the wisdom, resources and practices to be found in pre-enlightenment Christianity. However, it is precisely the denominations that have been the custodians of these treasures. How is this tension to likely be resolved?
It seems to me probable that emergent Anglicans will become more and more Anglican (as did many Evangelical Anglicans did in the last quarter of the 20C). But will they be able to negotiate their relationship with the denomination in a way that keeps the institutional feel to minimum so as not to alienate pm’s? Also will people continue to confuse the Fresh Expressions movement with the genuinely emergent so that many an Anglican feels they are being much more radical than in fact they are, resulting in a veneer of reform on a fundamentally modernist substructure?
Then what about Baptists? How significant is the (relatively) recently reawakened interest in things Anabaptist likely to be for the future shape of churches in the BUGB? Are there resources/wisdom/practices here that genuinely have the potential to help renew (or whatever re word you prefer) the denomination as a whole or is this likely to remain a rather weird interest for an unrepresentative and rather geeky section of the denomination? Are Baptists so thoroughly subdivided into either baby-boomer-modern or 1950’s-Isle-of-White-nostalgic-modern as to be beyond hope of anything other than a late modern surge and an ultimate post-modern demise?
Or are denominations as we have known them destined for such a fierce twist of the kaleidoscope that what emerges will be utterly unrecognisable? If so, what realignments and new births might we anticipate? Which pieces of the picture are likely to disappear altogether? And how will the mix of newly-minted and freshly-alloyed wisdom/values/practices be carried from generation to generation? (There surely has to be some institutional framework for values to survive beyond the generation of the charismatic pioneers. Or this just a hopelessly modernist way of seeing things?)
One final question: am I starting to ramble or is there something here that anyone fancies having their own two penn’worth on?