Beneath the veneer of the bikinied women in the Trinity Cathedral lies a harsh truth. The Anglican Church is not financially sustainable. If the operating and investment budgets cannot be met by their offerings, the church is in trouble.
This is to be expected since it is the largest loser of adherents—44 per cent—in the intercensal periods since 1990. How can the church pay its bills, including maintenance? The Anglican Church is not alone, all the mainline denominations have lost adherents.
But they, unlike some other denominations, depend on the middle class for their finances. The loss is more than absolute number of adherents, but the level of giving per capita is likely to be down since the middle class has been economically ravaged.
The solution, as evidenced in the Cathedral affair, is to leverage their assets for money-making ventures. This thinking led to the Cathedral being seen as an alternative to the St John’s Ambulance premises. The use of the All Saints hall last week was the proverbial camel’s nose.
You never allow the camel to put his nose in your tent since he would push you out before you know it. The problem was not as much the models’ dress, but the thinking of the Anglican leaders. Other religious leaders would be well-minded to learn since times are changing.
The value of a Christian church in our plural society is to support contrarian thinking not beholden to other influences. A speaker of truth to all. Christianity teaches the opposite of “what’s in it for me”, the current debilitating rampant individualism.
It espouses the notion of “the shared common good” whereby the cause of the poor and dispossessed is championed. It is to be all-inclusive acting as a bulwark against polarising forces in our community.
It is evident that this Christian perspective has not been successfully propagated. The fastest growing religious group is the “none/not stated”, which accounts for about 13 per cent of our population. The change in the demographics makes the decline of churches inevitable when the leaders lock themselves into certain ways of doing things while the world changes.
Unsatisfied people therefore vote with their feet. There has also been a shift in giving, people now give to causes and no longer to institutions. In our Philistine society, few think about how the historic church buildings are to be maintained.
One cannot “beauty show” his/her way out of this dilemma. As the insurance company’s billboards advise, “you cannot hold enough barbecues to fund major medical expenses”. When you have lost your value, you need to retrace your steps and find it.
Beauty shows are not consistent with the church’s mission, which disqualifies them from being in the sanctuary.
How can the Christian faith be re-imagined to enthral the young who face tremendous new challenges? Paul, in the book of Acts, engaged his generation in the public spaces; are there thinkers in the Christian church able to do so? Can the church have deep, thoughtful discussions about crucial issues in our society?
Failure to be broad in showing God’s grace will see church buildings re-purposed.