In this special blog for Eastertide, Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, explains the Church of England’s new vision for the 2020s.
Easter is a time of great hope. It is the season when Christians remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his victory in resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the disciples receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That gift nearly 2000 years ago is the reason why Christianity continues to this day and why Easter is such an important celebration in the Christian calendar.
It is with this same Easter hope, rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ that the Church of England has embarked on its vision for the 2020s. It was William Temple, when appointed Archbishop of York, who wrote to a friend to say, ‘It is a dreadful responsibility, and that is exactly the reason why one should not refuse’ (letter to F. A. Iremonger, August 1928). Shortly before I was appointed to follow in his footsteps, albeit 91 years later, I had been asked to give some thought to what the Church of England’s vision for the 2020s might look like and, if I am honest, similar words to those of Temple went through my mind.
However, as I embarked on this task, I was clear on two things. This should never be about my vision, but about discerning God’s vision for God’s church in God’s world—and therefore I should not attempt to find it on my own. Over the next 9 months, various groups were gathered together, representing a huge, and usually younger, diversity of voices. After much prayer and discernment a vision emerged which we felt was God’s call on us for this time. Consequently, there is now a clear Vision and Strategy that the governing body of the Church of England and the Diocesan Bishops have agreed—and the whole Church is shifting and aligning to this new narrative.
Except, it isn’t that new. The Church of England’s vocation has always been to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ afresh in each generation to and with the people of England. In our vision for the 2020s, we speak about this as being a Christ-centred Church, which is about our spiritual and theological renewal, and then a Jesus-Christ-shaped Church, particularly seeing the five marks of mission as signs and markers of what a Jesus-Christ-shaped life might look like. It is therefore a vision of how we are shaped by Christ in order to bring God’s transformation to the world. Three words in particular have risen to the surface: we are called to be a simpler, humbler, and bolder church.
From this, three priorities have emerged, and parishes and dioceses are invited to examine and develop their existing strategies and processes in the light of these ideas.
Whilst some have questioned why we only have three priorities, they are, I believe, vital for the Church of England in the 2020s as we continue to serve Jesus in the power of the Spirit through his Church.
In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’ Our desire is to reach everyone with the good news of Christ, and especially those who in the past may have felt excluded. That is why the work with racial justice, a new bias to the poor, and an emphasis on becoming younger are so important.
Ultimately, this vision flows from the joy we find in the risen Christ. It is an Easter message. A message of transformation for the world, as a church that is renewed and re-centred in Christ and shaped by God’s agenda for the world will be good news for that world. It will bring God’s transformation to the hurt, confusion, weariness, and despair we see around us—that Church existing for the benefit of its non-members as Temple so memorably put it.