I liked the quote from Rowan Williams in his New Year message on the eve of his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury.
He said religion ‘isn’t a social problem or an old fashioned embarrassment: it’s a wellspring of energy, and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. ’
But when I looked up the quote I realised that he was talking specifically about social projects run by Churches. He was not talking about religion or the Church generally. I was pleased by this. When I trained for ministry I was shaped by what is now called Community Ministry – the local church engaging with local residents about shared issues.
So Rowan Williams is making a positive claim about specific parts of the Churches work- that of service to others. Recent events – the failure to vote for women bishops and the limited (and surely impractical) step to allow celibate priests in civil partnerships to be bishops- have shown that the Church of England is not seen by many as ‘a life giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated’.
To be seen in this way it will need to accept unconditionally within its structures both women and those who are gay.
In the meantime I am glad when local Churches, especially together with partners with different religious and secular beliefs, can show how people should be valued and treated – the Food Co-ops now springing up for those looking for their next family meal, the visiting schemes for the ill or housebound, the car share journeys to distant hospitals, initiatives to give vision to young people, and all those quiet AA meetings that happen invisibly everywhere…
Inspite of the social/sexual/gender embarrasment of the Church there is a vision of human flourishing to be glimpsed – just.