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From Telegraph hack to C of E flak

11 November 2016

Conservation: the FT‘s article on the plight of the rural church

Conservation: the FT‘s article on the plight of the rural church

IT IS a bad habit of mine to read press releases to their end, but every now and then it yields something worth while.

In particular, I think we should all be gratified by the way that the Holy Spirit has touched one particular hack, whose stories, over the past two years, have included: “Church seeks vicars to fill empty pulpits”; “C of E faces 30-year decline as it battles to attract youth”; “Church of England worshippers fall below a million: Leaders insist they can restore fortunes after fewer than ever attend Sunday morning services”; “Christianity, the faith that dare not speak its name: Public sector workers under pressure to keep faith under wraps, says senior Anglican official”; “Preaching to people will put them off God, Church warns members”; “Migrants are mainstay of Christian faith”; and “Anglican faith slumps as Islam grows”.

At least no one at Church House will ever have to put up a defence to these stories again; for their author was John Bingham, then of The Daily Telegraph, and an excellent journalist. He was quoted, in the press release announcing his appointment as Head of Media Operations at the C of E, as saying: “This role offers the opportunity to work in an organisation with a great story to tell at an exciting moment in its history. I hope to be able not only to communicate that but, in doing so, play a part in it.”


A NEATLY WRITTEN and thought-provoking piece in The Spectator, by the Revd Dr Martin Thomas, describes the life of an urban priest, and his apparently endless encounters with the hungry and needy: “‘Give to everyone who asks of you,’ says Jesus in Luke’s gospel, but then Jesus wasn’t a vicar in Catford. In fact, I am not sure Jesus would have made a very good vicar. One can’t imagine him chairing the parochial church council or filling in yet another funding application . . . but if I help, my front door will quickly become even more of a magnet for the lost, bewildered and feckless.

“One can’t help thinking that Christianity would be a much easier affair if Jesus hadn’t said so many awkward things like that. Give everything you have to the poor, hate your father and mother, pluck out your offending eye. It’s quite difficult to know where to begin sometimes. In the prayers I ask Jesus, the Messianic Jew, whether I should have been more helpful, and the noisy silence of his reply unsettles me.”

Perhaps it’s just a matter of temperament, but I find stories and examples of this kind of stubborn attention to duty rather more inspiring than the upbeat stuff. The story that made the Church of England look most human and attractive on television was, after all, Rev.


THERE is, of course, a limit to the amount of disheartening news that the Church Times can carry. Deadlines mean that we will never carry the report of Armageddon, since if it happens in the latter part of the week we’ll already have gone to press, and if it happens early, there’s be no readers left: you’ll all have been raptured to a place where there is no broadband.

For this reason, I would like to ignore the election in the United States, but I can’t manage altogether. I offer, as one story among thousands, The Washington Post’s story of a Texan Roman Catholic priest, Fr Frank Pavone, who posted on Facebook a video of the service at which he raised an aborted foetus in front of the congregation and then laid it on the altar. The Washington Post, from which I lifted the story, went a few useful steps beyond outrage, though. It quoted a Democrat, Charles Camosy, a bioethics professor at Fordham University who said: “This is the death rattle for the culture-war-focused pro-life movement.”


THE Financial Times had a story about the plight of the rural Church, which had a very nice example of a point unobtrusively made: “‘The conversation about sustainability has been going on ever since I was ordained, and that was 26 years ago. But it’s not why I became a priest,’ says Mike Catling, vicar for St Barnabas and eight other churches in the Wigmore Abbey parish.”

It’s the “eight other churches” that makes the problem entirely plain. The piece quotes Sir Laurie Magnus, the chairman of Historic England: “‘What worries me is there is a view in the Church of England that everything is all right. [They say] the evangelical revival is happening and it’s all going to turn. Maybe it will. But they’ve got to be realistic in the interim and that’s where the business mindset is lacking.’”

This is a complaint I have heard privately from another high-placed conservationist.

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