I GOT the British Humanist Association press release denouncing
the Church of England on the basis of its attendance figures about
18 hours before the figures themselves turned up.
I like this for two reasons. The first is that it shows the
silliness of trying to spin these figures. They were released to
the religious-affairs correspondents before they went out to the
wider world. Since they are exactly what you would expect - a
further gentle downhill pootling - no one but Ruth Gledhill on
The Times was able to get a story out of them.
But the BBC had asked the Humanist Association for comment, and
so it got the figures and put out its own press release. It made
all the obvious points:
"The figures show that a very substantial majority of people in
England have nothing to do with the Church of England. . . 98% of
people don't go to a Church of England service on an average week
and only 5% of people go at the 'popular' time of Christmas. 98% of
young people are not confirmed, 88% of babies are not baptised, 66%
of funerals (and a slightly higher proportion of marriages) are not
Anglican. In all these areas, the long-term decline of church
It duly got its CEO, Andrew Copson, on to a couple of radio
programmes, where he could call for disestablishment and set the
tone for any comment that followed.
Releasing the attendance figures is a bit like changing the
dressing on an oozing wound in public, but it would be better to
release them generally under a rather longer embargo, so that
stories could be discovered that might make bits look better. The
figures this year weren't actually that bad; the real, long-term
story is, of course, the disastrous age-profile of congregations.
And it's not as if the Church provides a service like Radio 4,
which middle-aged, middle-class people naturally grow into because
it has saturated the cultural atmosphere all their lives.
Cole Moreton, a former Church Times news editor, now on
The Sunday Telegraph, finally got the interview with
Katharine Welby, suggesting, I suppose, that he is someone who can
be relied on to play things straight. It was a very good piece of
For one thing, it brought out the fact that the Archbishop's
eldest daughter had been a police officer in east London for three
years, which is not a job for wimps or very meditative types.
"For three years she patrolled in Hackney, one of the toughest
beats in the country. 'I'm a tiny person, so I've always been a bit
more feisty than people expect, just to show them. I might be tiny
but I can fight you. In a totally non-violent sort of way. . .'
"She laughs again, but the things she saw in the police were
brutal. . . "'I dealt with a lot of sudden deaths,' she says. 'The
first I ever saw was in a hostel. He was in his seventies. Nobody
knew anything about him. You couldn't tell what smelt worse: the
milk and steak he had left out of the fridge before dying, or
She talked almost as forensically about her own condition: "I
did not like being me. I hated it. I was exhausted by it. I wanted
to be someone else. Or nowhere else. . . What was happening
reminded me how worthless I was, how no one wanted me, how much of
a burden I was. All of these underlying things I had believed for a
long time but ignored. I got to the point where I just couldn't
bear the thought of living any more. That got very aggressive and
I don't think this will do her, or her family, any harm. It has
probably been a brisk lesson in the uncontrollability of a public
story. She clearly didn't expect all this when she put up her
original blog (Press, 3 May). Yet it is possible that there were
things she had to deal with on the streets of Hackney which were
even more frightening than a reporter running at her, brandishing a
JUST space to note that a survey of the US magazine business
showed that putting Jesus on your cover could increase newsstand
sales by up to 50 per cent. This was illustrated on the news
website Mother Jones by a number of increasingly far-fetched
Time and Newsweek covers, dragging Jesus into
stories that had nothing much to do with him.
In Britain, of course, what works better is a television tie-in.
This accounts for the Independent's headline (I have been
hoarding this): "A game of thrones to the drumbeats of thrilling
change". How else to describe an archbishop's enthronement?