I have just completed our online House of Bishops meeting. This included a report from our demographers about the surprising and worrisome decline in our number of members. But it also included a simultaneous reduction in the number of clergy available. Together they make up a kind of ‘perfect storm.’ In a number of provinces the congregations looking for a priest exceeds the number of clergy themselves by more than ten-fold. (The clergy shortage doesn’t relate to us).
What are we to do? 1. Learn from our fellow Anglicans. For in many places (for example sub-Saharan Africa!) most congregations are overseen by catechist/ evangelists, and this in no way precludes growth- quite the opposite. We can now learn from these provinces. A) catechists are overseen diligently by the local clergy. B) there is no expectation of the celebration of the holy eucharist everywhere and every Sunday. In fact this may make its celebration on occasion more keenly anticipated. This, more positively, involves the rediscovery of the offices of morning and evening prayer.
At this point we can readily see what the coming church needs.
We as a Church need more coordinated and energetic support for the training of catechists. (We have been out-front of this with our lay orders).
We cannot do without the intense formation provided residentially by seminaries. But we need more use of a flexible two-year degree (like the Master of Theological Studies). One year ought to be in residence.
Dioceses need to share information and ‘best practices’ about the yoking of congregations. There lies the future! (Our own shared ministry in east Texas, APNET, is an encouraging example.)
The important thing as always is not the structural details, but rather renewal in the Gospel, for whose propagation the Book of Common Prayer remains a sterling instrument.