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The Lidl wine offer of Anglicanism

Dan Leafe

Competition can challenge monopolies and improve the quality of services.

Complacent monopolies typically become management heavy, out of touch with those they purportedly serve and lose focus on their core values and “offer”. They lack agility and flexibility in anything other than self-preservation. Eventually they exist simply to perpetuate themselves rather than to meet the needs for which they were established.

Whether they be utility companies, banks or breweries, rarely do enquiries by the competition authorities or the supposed “transparency” of comparison websites do much to break up these cosy clubs. Instead, what invariably finally blows complacent monopolies apart is competition. It is competition that exposes monopolies for what they are and reveals just how they have failed those they claim to serve.

The prime example of such a phenomenon in recent years is the inexorable rise of those who were once patronisingly dismissed as “big box” retailers – Aldi and Lidl. They have seen astonishing growth: in some years Aldi has increased sales by nearly 30% and Lidl by nearly 20%. For example, in 2014 both were greatly assisted by wine offers that have enticed middle class shoppers into their stores for the first time.

The supposedly “no frills” (although increasingly less so) upstarts have exposed the decade-long and much vaunted “price war” between the big four to be just what it was – a phony war – a war in which there were no losers and profits continued to roll in for all. Until questions began to surface about accounting practices, loss of market share, and poor management culture. Branding without substance can only survive so long.

The Church of England, the self-perpetuating monopoly supplier of Anglicanism in England, has also been accused of an excess of managerialism, complacency, loss of any clarity as to its core principles, being out of touch with “ordinary people” on the ground, and financial crisis. There is an inherent lack of agility, a leadership groomed to maintain the status quo rather than take necessary steps to reverse decline based on its original core values. The descent into secularism and rejection of doctrinal orthodoxy has  been possible because of the lack of a distinctively Anglican challenge to its assumption of control over the Anglican brand.

When such a challenge occurs, the monopoly is robustly defended. So for example, the Church of England parish system encourages Bishops and incumbents to “defend” their patch from the seductions of successful church-planters. But imagine Aldi being told it couldn’t open near Sainsbury’s! It would surely be better to ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’; instead of fighting competition from new church movements, to use the energy for mission to the unreached.

This is why the Gafcon provision for Europe is so important. In the specific context of England, it is the Lidl wine offer of Anglicanism: a no-nonsense, authentic, and clear Anglicanism to entice those who still believe genuine, orthodox Anglican theology to be the best expression of the Protestant Reformation. Globalisation has provided a challenge to the Church of England’s monopoly: it is no longer recognised by the global communion as the exclusive provider of Anglicanism in England. That does not preclude the Church of England as a supplier – there is no intention of supplanting one monopoly with another or denying the fact that, to continue the analogy, many local branches of the big traditional supermarkets can still provide good service. But, crucially, it does mean that the self-perpetuating monopoly has been broken. There is now another expression of authentic Anglicanism in Britain and continental Europe.

The Anglican Network in Europe (and its constituent parts – the Anglican Convocation for Europe and the Anglican Mission in England) cannot be simply dismissed, for the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion have authorised and authenticated it. As such this is not “schism” as some have alleged: the recognised compliance of ANiE with Canon A8 precludes the possibility of being uncanonical: it is not possible to be simultaneously an authentic Anglican and a schismatic. A key feature of the Gafcon Jerusalem Statement (of which the Declaration forms the central part) is that Anglican identity is not determined by membership of an institution, but by conformity to doctrinal foundations (Jerusalem Statement, Article 3).

The ANiE is now able to provide English Anglicans with whatever the Church of England cannot or will not supply. It can provide selection for ordination where the BAP process is broken, ordination where faithful Anglicans are no longer in communion with their Bishops, church planting opportunities in otherwise moribund dioceses and alternative episcopal oversight by bishops who believe that church order exists to serve the cause of the Gospel rather than the other way around. Perhaps most important of all the ANiE makes a distinctively different “offer” which will contrast well to a Church whose core message is more often from the editorial of The Guardian than the glories of the Gospel.

If the Church of England were a functional organisation it would welcome the new entrant, recognising that there is room for everyone and that a challenge to be creative and to innovate is no bad thing. As such, whether the Church of England seeks to work with or against the ANiE is perhaps more important to the future of the former than the latter. The one thing it cannot do is complacently pretend that the ANiE doesn’t exist for that will simply speed the Church on its present path to extinction.

A major threat to the Church of England is not only a perception that there is no place for a distinctively Christian voice in the constitutional arrangements, but that the Church of England is seen as so secularised and indistinct from the rest of society that it adds nothing to give it a privileged place in public discourse. Disestablishment would go some way to levelling the playing field for ANiE – leaving the players to put before the public respective expressions of Anglicanism for approval or otherwise.

In comparison with the Church of England, the upstart ANiE is small, somewhat disorganised and underfunded but Lidl opened its first store in England in a warehouse just 20 years ago. A lot can happen in a generation.

 

 

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