Parish amalgamations

"Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20.

I am always fascinated by the push to amalgamate local governments. The argument is that a larger local government council/shire can function more efficiently than a smaller one. The rates and charges from the larger government instrumentality are supposed to be far less than the smaller one. Yet, this is not my experience and I suspect it cannot be supported by the evidence. In my experience, the smaller the local government body, the cheaper the rates and taxes. Not only is the smaller show more economical, it is more approachable. When I lived in Braidwood, a small country town out from Canberra in Australia, not only were the taxes far less than large suburban councils, but if I wanted approval for something, all I needed to do was walk up to the council chambers and speak directly to the appropriate person and get his immediate permission. Try that in a large bureaucratic amalgamated conglomerate.

Sadly, the Christian church tends to follow the whims of secular society, and we Anglicans are not immune from this disease. Amalgamation of Parishes and the closing down of branch churches is rampant. There are of course, situations where the local community itself has changed its center (they were once on foot but now use the car) or where the local environ is now depopulated, and therefore, the only proper course is to close the church. Yet, everywhere we look we see church buildings converted into private homes and the local community left without a functioning Christian worship center.

Recently, an Anglican parish closed its branch church in a small neighboring local community. Some 40 people attended that church and yet it was closed and the building sold. About 10 people moved to the mother church, some 20 went to the local Presbyterian church, and about 10 didn't bother going anywhere. Thankfully there was still the Presbyterian church.

The argument for amalgamations tends to focus on efficiency of scale. Those with a Church Growth leaning push for the magical 200 size congregation, and if this necessitates amalgamation, so be it (usually in the face of much protest). The number crunches look to finances where a congregation is too small to support a minister. In Australia the minimum budget is $40,000 per year. The result is decimated congregations.

The sad fact is that none of this is necessary. The Church Growth argument is less than convincing and the financial argument is dictated by questionable ministry priorities.

If Anglicans were still committed to the Parish system we would not be so quick to close a church that may only have a handful of members. If the local community in which the church exists is viable then we should happily encourage part-time ministry and reallocate funds from diocesan organizations to frontline Parish ministry. It is very difficult to find a more effective means of gospel ministry than a dedicated clergyman living in a local community and evangelizing that community while ministering to his tiny flock. As long as the church maintains an open door policy with occasional services, opportunities to minister the gospel will be endless, particularly where the minister works at becoming part of the local community.

In urban society people yearn for community, for a local place. Even non-believers mourn the loss of their local church.

[Pumpkin Cottage]