Obviously, I have no better idea of what’s going to happen tomorrow or 5 years from now than you do. Anyone who tells you they know exactly what’s going to happen is almost guaranteed to be wrong. And the further into the future the prediction, the more likely it is to be wrong. Having said that, there are some things that are likely to happen in the next couple of decades that we need to think about.
These are not my predictions. They’re coming from books and radio interviews with people who study various fields, and who are making informed suppositions about what the world will look like in 20 to 50 years.
The climate is going to continue to change. Many people are working really hard to shift our global use of fossil fuels. It’s still possible that we’ll see an energy revolution, but the odds are that the decline in fossil fuel use will not be enough to prevent really significant changes in our climate. This is likely to mean that some regions and cities will be less habitable than they have been. It’s likely to mean that regions that produced large amounts of food will produce less. It’s also likely to mean that regions that didn’t produce a great deal of food may begin to produce more. If that happens, we will see large migrations of people from some regions to others.
On a completely different note, there are experts in the field of computers who are suggesting that whole sections of our economy will not need human input. That sounds crazy, but think about transportation: self-driving cars are on their way in the next few years. In order to replace people, they don’t have to be perfect—they just have to be better than human drivers. As we all know from our drives into work this morning, that’s not all that hard. But automating every vehicle that industry requires pulls a whole lot of people out of the work force. And it won’t just be in transportation. We may be approaching social change on a level not seen since the industrial revolution.
For those of us in the Anglican Church, the next 20 years are probably going to be hard. We have yet to hit demographic bottom. That means that our parishes are going to be doing a lot more funerals than anything else. It means that we are going to shrink drastically. It means that some parishes are going to be unable to sustain paid staff of any kind. Many will close. There will be exceptions: maybe your parish is one of them, but they will be exceptions. Inevitably, the shrinking and closure of parishes will impact dioceses. There will be diocesan offices that shrink or disappear.
It all sounds kind of grim. Except I don’t think it has to be. Some of this change will be slow, and some of it will come quickly. There will be pieces we haven’t anticipated, and things that come as a complete surprise.
But the story of God is new life after death. The story of God is the story of hope, even when there should be none. The Spirit has a role for you and me in the world that is coming, even if we don’t know what that role is.
I do, however, have some thoughts about how our church should respond. Stay tuned.