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Plastic-free miracles in Church of Waitrose

23 February 2018


I KNOW it’s called the Church of England, but, so far as the papers are concerned, it is the Church of Waitrose, or at least of the people who shop there.

A quick rummage through an electronic library that indexes all the national papers, found that in the past three months there were three stories that mentioned the Church of England and foodbanks; and six that mentioned the Church and homelessness — one of which was the desperately sad story of a 79-year-old priest who fell in love with a 24-year-old Romanian man, and moved with him to Bucharest, where he spent half his capital on a flat that they would share, which he gave to the young man, who, of course, threw him out within a fortnight.

One story mentioned asylum, three mentioned migrants, and eight mentioned refugees, although three of those were about Bishop Bell, and so nothing to do with the Church’s policies today. But there were 16 stories mentioning plastic, because everyone has carrier bags.

It even inspired something funny from Giles Coren, who wrote in The Times: “Disciples came to Jesus saying, send the multitude away that they may go into the villages and buy victuals. But Jesus said unto them, What, 5,000 supermarket sandwiches in triangular boxes of single-use plastic that take four million years to degrade? Are ye mad? We have here five loaves and two fishes, bring them hither to me.

“And he commanded the multitude to sit on the ground and they did all eat and were filled. With no plastic waste at all, not even stupid disposable cutlery which is surely the Devil’s work, for they ate with their fingers. And they took up of the fragments that remained, twelve baskets full, which they sent to be rendered into biofuel.”


THE only comparable impact that the Church has had on national life came from the announcement that rural churches would be used for broadband masts. This has been attacked on the grounds that there is a great deal that is wicked on the internet, but that seems to me entirely specious. Think of the sin that a simple voice telephone facilitates, and, before that, the countless adulteries enabled by the penny post. Anything that allows church buildings to serve the surrounding communities goes some way to justifying the ugly ones.

The Telegraph Magazine had a magnificent grump from the actor Simon Williams: “In my childhood our bedtime prayers were just a list of relatives and pets to be blessed or cured, and ‘Please let Daddy’s play get good reviews.’ At boarding school, aged eight, I used to pray myself into a homesick sleep, ‘Oh Lord, help me with algebra and fielding practice, and don’t let the dog or my budgie or granny die before Easter.’

“There’s never been anything in my life to match the melancholy of evensong after a home weekend — Jesus with his stained-glass smile fading in the dusk. ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.’ I grew to love churchgoing; its ritual, its poetry, the dismal chanting and the smell of floor polish and dead flowers.

“Alas, the Church has fallen prey to moving with the times, so, like a teenager watching his parents doing the twist, I cringe. It’s all radio mics and fake candles. Outside Birmingham Cathedral a sign reads, ‘Is The Hokey Cokey Really What It’s All About?’ It’s Christianity for heaven’s sake, not karaoke. Why oh why change the wonderful language that our faith has hinged on since the 17th century?”

And so on, for several paragraphs, none of which quite attained the concision and force of another Telegraph story: “Plans to install unisex toilets as part of a refurbishment of St Mary the Virgin in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, met with ire from opponents who said that toilets in churches were a ‘current fad’.

“Objectors John and Mary Downs conceded ‘the modern generation’s need . . . to have immediate access to toilet facilities’ but objected to the noise and smell they said the facilities would produce.”

They might find, as they get even older themselves, that their own need for such immediate access becomes a dominant part of their lives. But nothing could beat the culmination of Olivia Rudguard’s story: “Among a list of objections was the concern that ‘toilets attract children.’”

If children are attracted to church, where will it all end?


THE question has at least the advantage of novelty, since we know very well where the Church will end if children are not attracted to it.

I raised this point — and the anecdote — in a longish Guardian  profile of Justin Welby after his five years in office, which ended: “Changing that [attitude] is beyond the power of any archbishop; it will require a profound cultural revolution that starts in the parishes. But what he can justifiably claim after five years is that he has done nothing to make the task more difficult and much to make it seem more urgent. That may not seem much but it’s more than any other archbishop has managed for a long time.”

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