It is often said that the longest word in English is antidisistablishmentarianism. Actually , antidisestablishmentariam is the longest, non-technical word. The longest technical word is 189819 letters long, which the longest chemical protein, titin. Also it is the longest non-coined words such Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
All this is to introduce an interesting debate, piggybacking an article from Wednesday’s Guardian–what do they think they are guarding? Truth? Good spelling? The article basically proposes disestablishment of the Church of England. Antidisestablishmentarianism opposes this.
The basic thrust of the article is that because the CofE is so estranged from the everyday life of the UK–a disputed claim in itself–the church should be disestablished to survive and serve the nation.
The C of E needs to let go of its constitutional power, drop its assumptions and end this charade that it’s still somehow the default setting for English spirituality. In its current form, it serves neither the nation nor the faith it proclaims: it needs to disestablish and de-institutionalise, to change its name and its face. It may soon begin its own programme of reform, but what it needs is a revolution. Because here’s another strange thing: we might need a reborn Church of England more than ever.
The question I want ask, however, is does the link between the church and state benefit or damage the mission of the Church of England? In one sense, as a non-Anglican, I do not have a right to opine about this. In another sense, with the media’s tendency to see the Anglican Church as the expression of all British Christianity, I do.
As with most disputed issues, there are strong arguments on both sides. On the positive side it does express the important missionary assertion that faith and politics are inextricably linked. On the other hand it does locate that political theology in the centre of society rather than from the margins. Or to put it another way, it is political theology at home rather than in exile.
Practically, it does give vicars entrance into people’s lives that a non-Conformist pastor may not get. It also gives more of a unified voice into society as the Archbishop of Canterbury attempts to do. It does put the Church of England into an extremely difficult position as the 7th largest landowner in the UK.
I am not convinced that even the new and wonderfully creative ways that the Church is trying in its mission, such as Fresh Expressions will truly resolve this problem. Mission from the margins, or the idea that we do mission from a position of exile are difficult to manage if you are in the centre.
These are ramblings rather than a coherent argument. Feel free to ruminate with me.