BY A STAFF REPORTER A REPORT urging the ra Church of England to adopt methods used by the Mission de France in "deChristianised" areas has just been published by the Anglican renewal organisation Parish and People.
The report calls on Anglican clergy to take a "more fearless" approach to their ministry by closing churches with vanishing congregations, forming more and larger "group ministries", reducing the number of services, shift, ing from geographical parishes to chaplaincies for various kinds of industry, and finally regarding England as largely "mission" territory.
It was written by the Rev. Tony Foottit of Fakenham. Norfolk, one of eight Anglican clergy who last year toured France with Bishop Llewellyn of Lynn to study the work of the Mission de France.
The Mission, founded during the war, trains French priests to work in areas where people no longer practise their religion. It encourages them to mix freely with the people and take a deep interest in their secular problems, rather
than concentrate on getting them to church. Many workerpriests have been trained by the Mission.
In his report Mr. Foottit writes: "We can learn from the Mission priests to move away from clericalism, from thinking of the ordained ministry as something separate from the rest of the Church, from standing on our dignity, from hiding behind clerical collars in a clerical life. from conceiving of holiness as separate from ordinary life."
He urges the Church of England to note the Mission's serious attention to sociology. "In our ministry," he writes. "the temptation is to fill the parson-shaped hole rather than to be faithful to our true calling in the present situation."
The French priests, he goes on. have evangelised successfully through by-passing the "normal channels "of ministry.
"One must be prepared to leave one's shell of class and caste (the Roman priests suffer more from the latter. ourselves from the former) and make oneself vulnerable. Secular work is the key to identification."
He adds: "The secular and often manual work of the priests cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to our situation."
Describing the work of the Mission de France, Mr. Foottit says it groups its teams of priests into regions, each with an advisory theologian who visits the teams regularly, encouraging them and bringing an exchange of ideas.
"The priests," says Mr. Foottit, "find it essential to go to the people and not wait for the people to come to them. This cannot be done by going round on the traditional visits peddling magazines and inviting church subscriptions. First they try to be one of the peole."
The team's theology, he goes on. is hound up with the idea of "collegiality".
At their meetings members often discuss the nature of the priesthood. Formerly, they say, the priest was concerned with sacraments, visiting and being a leader in the community.
Now these things have lost their meaning to people, so the priest must involve himself with the problems of the world.
In churches where there are only one or two communicants the priests stop holding Mass. On most Sundays each priest has two Masses and preaches at both. but there are no vespers. The rest of Sunday is regarded as a holiday for all and time for the priests to visit people in their homes or go out with them.
Describing one Mass, Mr. Foottit says: "Hymns and psalms were sung to Methodist-like tunes with choruses. It was, strange to say, most moving to sing a Communion hymn for unity to the tune of Auld Lang Syne."
Because so many villages have lost the faith, he continues, the priests find working together in groups essential for their moral support.
In one Mission village of 1,000 there are only 15 regular communicants over the age of 12. In one of 900 there are none between the ages of 18 and 30.
Mission priests wait on an invitation from the local Bishop before setting up a team in a diocese. Some Bishops have expelled them.
Their special training seminary at Pontigny has about 40 students.