AN ACTUAL good news story to start this week with: a new church has opened in Tottenham Hale, in north London. It was covered by Kaya Burgess in The Times and Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian, and by this newspaper.
That district was once famous for the riots on a council estate in which PC Keith Blakelock was murdered, and his corpse was decapitated by a mob. I remember patrolling it with the police when I was writing a book about them in the late 1980s. It was not, then, a place that anyone would willingly move to.
But the estate on which the new church has been built does not appear to be like that. For one thing, it has 1200 student flats in it, as well as the same number of adult homes. What is really interesting is that the new church seems to be built into a community centre, which also holds a café and a bakery. This might be an imaginative way to reinvent the parish church rather than the gathered congregation.
ALTHOUGH Tottenham is probably one of the London districts where gun ownership is most concentrated, the new church is unlikely to see a repeat of the events that have shaken Tellico Plains, a small town in East Tennessee. As reported by The Washington Post, the congregation of the First United Methodist Church — about 20 people — were extremely worried by the recent church shooting in Texas, and decided to discuss gun safety.
“‘Well, I’ve got my gun on me,’ an 81-year-old member of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains said. . . He pulled out his holster, which held a .38-caliber Ruger handgun. He removed the magazine, cleared the chamber and showed the gun to the other parishioners. They talked about how to safely bring guns to church — and how sad it was that so many people nationwide had been killed in recent mass shootings.
“The 81-year-old man put the magazine back into the gun and put the gun back in the holster. . . Later, while people were cleaning up, a church member who had missed the demonstration asked to see the weapon.
“Just as he was about to show it to the church member, the man accidentally pulled the trigger without realizing the gun was loaded.”
That was how he managed to shoot his wife in her wheelchair beside him, wounding her gravely in the stomach and arm. The other church members, who had their backs to the incident, assumed that a stranger had burst in and shot someone. Someone rang 911. The local schools and hospital were put on lockdown. The police arrived — all armed to the teeth, of course — but managed not to shoot anyone else, and to clear up the situation.
THE WASHINGTON POST also had an extraordinary piece on Paula White, a prosperity-gospel preacher with a large black following who also claims to be President Trump’s closest spiritual adviser (she owns a $3.5-million apartment in one of his tower blocks in New York).
The seventh paragraph is an absolute classic of its kind: “Not all Christians, including evangelicals, are fans of the wealthy, thrice-married White, who has long been associated with the prosperity gospel, a set of beliefs that says God will reward faith, and very generous giving, with financial blessings. Detractors point to a congressional investigation of her former church’s finances and accusations that she has taken advantage of her mostly African American parishioners through her fundraising. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has called her a ‘charlatan,’ conservative Christian writer Erick Erickson has said she’s a ‘Trinity-denying heretic,’ and Christian rapper Shai Linne named her a ‘false teacher’ in one of his songs.”
Some of this may be due to her being a woman. I cannot say she seems worse than many other male prosperity-gospellers, one of them her second husband, Randy White, formerly a youth pastor at a church that she attended; certainly not more shameless than Benny Hinn, with whom she was photographed holding hands in Rome after her second divorce, and the division of the $40 million a year that her church business with Randy was pulling in.
This is the woman who represents God to Donald Trump, and intercedes on his behalf with God. I wish someone would set her up to debate with Pope Francis.
THE Church of England’s new website (News, 17 November) makes a decent job of dealing with the outside world. Before the internet, it would have been ludicrous to suppose that the central authorities were the Church’s shop window, so to speak. But that is how they appear on Google, and the Church must clearly adapt.
The new site makes a good start at appealing to the Google trade — people who search for “church funerals” or even “church weddings” — which must be the most important part of its function, although that will not be done properly until it is integrated with “A church near you”, so that casual visitors can discover where these delights are on offer.
The secondary function, of being useful to church insiders, still needs improvement, but the great thing about web publishing is that you can constantly improve what you have done before.