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State church amid ‘snow-white missions field’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press’ London bureau, in tandem with Tim Ellsworth, editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations at Union University, will be providing coverage of London Olympics. Baptist Press will publish features about Christian athletes in the Olympics, recap results of their competition and cover initiatives to share the Gospel during the Summer Games and within the U.K.’s cultural milieu.

REDHILL, England (BP) — Snow is not a common sight in southern England, but it dusts the town’s old stone church more frequently than it once did.

Lizzie Baker is getting accustomed to seeing it blanket the town from time to time, much like political correctness.

“There are growing dangers of having to water down your faith to be acceptable in this culture,” said Baker, a youth worker at Holy Trinity Church in Redhill, U.K. “It’s a postmodern society. There is no truth. ‘Whatever you believe, that’s fine’ — that’s the pervasive thought.”

But it’s another thought entirely that keeps the youth worker venturing out every week to nearby schools to talk to teenagers.

“We know we have a God who is God over all,” she said.

And she’d like for these students to meet Him.

In some respects, the spiritual landscape of England doesn’t look too different from that of the States, Baker said. British people put great stock in security — money, family, cars and houses.

“It’s really hard for people to see that they need God when they have built such self-sufficiency,” she said.

But one factor is different from the U.S. There’s no separation of church and state. This is seen as a blessing by some and as a curse by others, Baker said.

She chooses to see it as a blessing.

With the Church of England’s government ties comes a state requirement that schools teach religion, and that allows Baker access to classrooms and assemblies. She teaches the Gospel message, the tenets of the faith, and sometimes holds reflection times for the student body with prayer and devotionals.

The arrangement comes with the catch that other religions, not just Christianity, can be taught, which “is really, really hard, because then you are just one voice amongst many,” Baker said. “You have to caveat everything you say with ‘as a Christian I believe,’ or ‘as the Bible says.'”

But it opens doors to talk to teenagers, so she considers it an opportunity.

She looks similarly at the Church of England congregation where she serves.

She grew up in a Baptist church, a “free” church, and there she chose to follow Christ. The Church of England has a certain beauty to Baker: It’s a field snowy-white unto harvest. And it comes in all brands and styles across its 16,000 congregations — from liturgical to charismatic, contemporary to traditional.

British folks often attend their local Church of England as a cultural institution, a place legally and sentimentally part of their community and family. Weddings, funerals, the baptisms of their children — all are theirs by law, regardless of their personal spiritual state.

It’s a ripe mission field that’s shown much fruit, Baker said. She has seen people come for sentiment or cultural reasons to a state-provided church, and there they find Jesus. One couple, for instance, who came to the church in order to use it for their wedding later accepted Christ as a result of visiting and become active members of the body.

The vicar, or parish priest, at her church often speaks to the congregation about the liturgy and doctrine ingrained in the Church of England, explaining its personal spiritual relevance and connection to Christ.

“When you go back to the real history of the church, there’s such a beautiful foundation there,” Baker said. “It’s just wonderful, and I love that.”

The most important thing is simply for the leaders to love Jesus, she said.

“The Church of England has its roots deep, but the government is moving further and further from the truth, walking away from our Christian heritage. We need a boldness and conviction to stand up for the truth and not water down the Gospel,” Baker said.
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. To download a copy of the WMU International Mission Study on London in which this article appears, visit http://www.newsfromeurasia.com/?p=629.

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  • Ava Thomas