I do not worry about communities in our diocese where the planning is being done one way or the other. The danger comes when communities are not thinking about the future at all.
By Bishop Todd Townshend
In the fall of 2019, one of the members of this diocese approached me and asked, “What are your hopes for the Anglican church forty years from now?”
I was not prepared for the question. Various things in my life and work prepared me to articulate my hopes for today, tomorrow, or even ten years from now—but not forty years from now.
I realized why, upon reflection. Forty years is beyond “me”. I may still be alive in forty years, but I would be pretty old. Chances are, I will not be around in forty years. But this person, much younger than I am, probably will be around.
The questioner is not naïve, so the question revealed sheer hope and genuine expectation. God has a future. God has a past and a present, of course, but God is the God of a promised future. It is ours to live and discover as gift, and it is ours to prepare as a gift for those who will follow.
A couple of times over the past few years there have been headlines about whether the Anglican church will even exist in 2040. That’s not even twenty years from now. These discussions are meant to awaken us to the realities of change.
I don’t find these discussions very motivating; in fact, I’m sure that they hurt us. When we start to expect that “church decline” will simply extend on a straight line to some extrapolated end-of-church point, we are not being realistic about what the “graph” of Christian history actually looks like over 2022 years. It has ups and downs. It shows remarkable changes and adaptations. It shows losses and gains, sin and grace, failures and victories. It shows us a God who always summons us around the next corner into a new future.
Here is one of the most important questions Anglicans can ask of ourselves right now. As a community, are we planning to have a future—or are we planning to not have a future?
It may seem like a dumb question—"of course, we are planning to have a future!” Yet, looking objectively, is the activity in our churches right now giving clues to what the real answer is? Some of us are planning to not have a future. Others are planning for a future with joy and hope—and they are investing in it.
I do not worry about communities in our diocese where the planning is being done one way or the other. The danger comes when communities are not thinking about the future at all. There will be a future, it will belong to God, and we are being summoned into it. We have the opportunity to invest in it, and we can be doing now the things that will benefit people tomorrow, five years from now, or forty years from now.
Thanks be to God for this good work we do together!