A Plan for the Church
 
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A national daily paper dated 10.9.92 reported that the Church of Rome has commissioned a batch of confessionals with electronic aids from a firm who call themselves 'Genuflex' (No kidding!).

This indicates that the time has come for the Church of England to reveal its far-reaching plan for the Second Millennium, by which it proposes to solve many, or most of its problems by dispensing with the labour-intensive set-up which we currently enjoy (endure?). The Church accepts that it no longer has the financial resources to employ a full-time ministry, nor to maintain what are probably the least efficient and least cost-effective buildings of any organisation.

It also recognises that there is no justification for the employment of full time Parish Priests or for the human paraphernalia which clutters the churches of this land. Temporary palliatives, such as 'employing more fully the ministry of the laity' and the setting up of 'Minster Parishes' have successfully bought time until long term plans could be brought to fruition.

The Church now recognises its need to embrace the two principal characteristics of the decade, namely technology and privatisation.

As from the year 2000 therefore, the Church will, as a first priority, set up a computer complex situated offshore in the Diocese of Sodor and Man. This will effect a saving in tax. Each Parish will then be equipped with a 'cash dispenser' type of computer terminal which, initially, will be be built into the walls of each Parish Church. These will be known as 'Godslots'. As a result of the 'Decade of Evangelism', it is confidently anticipated that coverage will later be expanded so as to provide outlets at suitable sites such as supermarkets, post offices, football grounds, racetracks, and tourist attractions such as theme parks and cathedrals.

Each of the faithful, who registers with 'Godslot (your flexible friend) plc.' and who pays the Annual Service Charge (ASC) by direct debit,* will be issued with a plastic card and a PIN number. On inserting the card, each will be given a few words of comfort based on the 'theme' for the week,  and backed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, by Madonna singing 'Ave Maria', or the Harry Secombe single, 'Bless this House'.

Signed photographs of the Archbishop of Canterbury may be dispensed and debited to the individual's account, if in credit. If not, suitable quotations from Dante or 'Paradise Lost' would be substituted.

Those who achieve Confirmation after taking the necessary correspondence course on disk or tape, will be issued with a 'Gold Card' enabling them to receive the Sacrament either with or without a receipt.

Baptism will be administered by combining the dispenser with a 'Hand-Wash' machine as seen in many public 'facilities', but with a 'head-size' hole.

Further refinements, available in a limited number of Dioceses, might include a discreet whiff of incense for those so inclined.

Funerals offer no problem. Crematoria are already automated, so that all that will be required is a chute giving immediate transfer to a disposal unit developed on the 'microwave' principle. A 'Destination?' prompt will be answered simply by pressing either of two buttons marked respectively or . (Press neither for limbo.)

Weddings will, of course be more difficult, since these are notoriously 'labour intensive' - especially prior to the event. Access to 'communal space' and social intercourse will still be required, and it will therefore be necessary for those concerned to obtain in advance the sponsorship of a florist, caterer, car hire firm, 'Pronuptia' (sic) and Moss Bros. As these are already regarded as the vital features of any wedding, no real problem is anticipated. In cases of poverty, the computer will be programmed to dispense a wedding certificate and a ring on the entering of a special PIN number issued for the occasion by a Registrar. To avoid confusion, this will be known as a 'BAN' number. Suitable music, such as the Widor 'Toccata' or 'Crimond' would, of course, be available. Alternatively, provision will be made for a prior recording of the bride's uncle singing a vocal 'gem' such as 'All ya need is love, Baby!'.

The great merit of this system is that the only personnel required will he a 'Service Engineer' for each area. These will be dressed in distinctive purple overalls with cruciform I.D. badges and pointed safety helmets, and equipped with Alternative Service Manuals. Maintenance work carried out at night would mean that they would be almost as invisible as hitherto.

The 'Godslots' will require only a minimum of space, so releasing the remainder of a Church building to be rented out or leased at considerable profit as a bingo hall, or 'acid house', its thick walls making it especially suitable for rave parties in built-up areas.

Commercial interests have already indicated their interest in taking up a franchise or even a merger - there is already precedent at Salisbury.

With the feelings of the recalcitrant in mind, old traditions will he maintained by having an annual 'Clap and Stomp' on such public holidays as Yule-Tide and Hallowe'en, sponsored by the publishers of 'Mission Praise', the 'Jolly Ho-Ho Card Company Inc.' of Baltimore, and International Wicca.

The next step will be privatisation. There is no doubt that such progressive moves will attract healthy competition, the Church of Rome being one obvious contender. The eventual use of advertising accompanied by offers of free holidays to Euro-Disney or Lourdes is to be the subject of a feasibility study in depth.

Within a short time share offers will be floated - the possibilities are endless (seculae seculorum).

(* The Church reserves the right to modify this charge without notice. Remember that in default of payment, your salvation may be at risk.)

[Since the above was written, it has been announced in the national press that the B.B.C. is to introduce a phone-in prayer service to be known as 'A Ring and a Prayer'. This not only indicates that the age of prophecy is still with us, but also underlines the urgency for the Church to expedite this project otherwise market forces may acquire a prior interest.]

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Preliminary reaction to 'A Plan for the Church' from a prominent Layman of a Diocese within the Province of Canterbury whose advice was sought:

From his letter dated 21st. September.

"Many thanks for your interesting suggestions. I took these to the Bishop's Council where members considered the ideas "exciting and positive".

A Working Group is to enter into dialogue with T... S.... (a well-known electrical contractor) to discuss hardware requirements. The Council of Mission is to appeal to Lambeth for funds to get up a pilot project in partnership with Latin America. A paper is to be compiled to help the Parishes "catch a vision", "unpack the issues", and, above all, "share thoughts" about the possible implications.

Clearly, sacking 175 clergy in this Diocese will be a sensitive and at times a painful issue, but much good may come from the tensions this could create (in a real sense).

As a start, all recently-retired priests will lose 3 months' pension (see our leaflet "The Joy of Giving") to help us create a 'launching pad' for these forward-looking ventures."

[POST-SCRIPT. Re. 'Service Engineers - see above.. - (applicable after March 1994)

The important theological dogma has now been promulgated ex cathedra by General Synod, that there is now no difference whatever between what were formerly called 'males and females'. (These terms, emanating from the now obsolete Book of Genesis' (1.27), have been falsely maintained by the grave errors of the Bishop of Rome and the grammar of primitive languages which have yet to evolve to perfection as has English.) This enlightenment will mean that service engineers will be recruited from both former 'classes' of personkind. Unfortunately it has not been possible to eliminate the need for an alternative 'cut' in the overalls to be worn. There has also been some pressure for alternative colours to tone with hair and lipstick. A working party is to be set up at Lambeth to investigate in depth these and other minor difficulties. There is no doubt that with true goodwill on the part of all concerned, we shall all be guided in the right path.]

The Estate of William John Green, 2004