Church of England failing to spread the faith, says archbishop of York

John Sentamu says people are left ‘amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair’ as church argues over words

The Church of England is failing to devote enough energy to spreading the faith in favour of arguing over words and phrases, the archbishop of York has warned.

Dr John Sentamu said people were being left “amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair” as the church failed to evangelise, or get its Christian message across.

“Compared with evangelism, everything else is like re-arranging furniture when the house is on fire,” he said.

“Tragically too often that is what we are doing. Reorganising the structures, arguing over words and phrases, while the people of England are left floundering amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair.”

The criticism from Sentamu, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, was made as the church’s national assembly, or General Synod, backed a new task group to work on boosting congregations.

The move came after the former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey told a conference in Shropshire at the weekend that more must done to attract young people into the church.

He warned that the Church of England was “one generation away from extinction”.

“As I look at the church today the most urgent and worrying gap is in young people’s work,” he said. “So many churches have no ministry to young people and that means they have no interest in the future.”

“We have to give cogent reasons to young people why the Christian faith is relevant to them. For most of us, our hearts were touched when we were young and that precious touch we should not hold from our young people.”

The Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt Rev Robert Paterson said potential members were put off by the Church of England’s “internalising” tendency.

He said the Church of England was failing to capitalise on a widespread “residual faith” in English society.

“There is a great deal of residual faith around in this country, you only have to meet people in hospital, people who are sad from the death of those they love, people who don’t turn up on Sundays to church but who ask us to pray with them,” he said.

He added: “The trouble is that what is on the label of the church tin is still not what is in the tin.

“On the label, the church tin says ‘open here for salvation, peace, hope, purpose, love, Kingdom … but when it is open inside the tin we so often find humbug, or if we are Anglicans, fudge.

“People outside the church have noticed that internalising tendency and they don’t want to belong to an apparently useless and self-orientated organisation.

“The symptoms of this can be seen in the general decline of the self-preserving parts of the institutional church and in contrast, growth among the more visionary and less defensive.”

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