The 2013 census on religious affiliation contains few surprises. Not even the decline in Anglican affiliation should catch us unawares.
These trends liberate us from notions of self-importance and turn us back to our fundamental calling.
They also situate our Church more on the margins of our society, where we really belong.
My immediate response, then, is thankfulness to God that we are being refined, called to repentance and to a refocusing of our mission. It’s an exciting and challenging time to be in Christian leadership.
Following Jesus has always been fundamentally counter-cultural. And the Church has always been most authentically the Body of Christ when it is salt and leaven rather than the ‘religious’ dimension of modern society
While there is much good in individuals and in wider society, we do live in a culture that is highly individualistic, self-preoccupied, acquisitive and transitory.
We know that the human soul aspires to be more honest, more relational and more enduring. Nelson Mandela, though far from perfect, helped us to see this potential and embodied the true nobility of the human spirit.
Wherever I go in the Church I see signs of renewed and re-invigorated Christian discipleship
I also see signs of authenticity and growth as people of great faith try to express their commitment in practical, sacrificial ways.
An Advent challenge for all who profess Christian faith is to critique our ministry and to try harder to live out our discipleship of Christ.
Our Church may be smaller numerically, but we may also be more authentically Christ’s Church as we recover our saltiness and become real leaven.
Odd as it may sound, then, the census elicits in me both excitement and possibility. It calls me back to the fact that we are first and foremost the Body of Christ, not an institution, and that ultimately we are called to “give ourselves away”.
As agents of God’s unchanging love, we are challenged to engage wholeheartedly in the world, proclaiming God’s justice, peace and love. This life is no waiting room; this is the time and place where we are a foretaste of a whole new way of being.
So what does the future hold for the Church?
I foresee in 10 years a community of faith that is more vibrant, more generous, more hospitable, and much more open-hearted.
A Church that is unafraid of hard questions… An intelligent, hopeful and confident Church that knows nothing in all creation is beyond God’s power and God’s love. A happier Church, no less!
My dream? That this Church will grow in faith, through beautiful and engaging worship. And that we will become more fully a community with a servant heart and an undying commitment to a servant Lord.
The Most Rev Philip Richardson is Archbishop of the New Zealand Dioceses.