A CHURCH of England that is “poorer, weaker, less strong” might be a positive development, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, has suggested.
In an interview with the comedian Russell Brand, Bishop Cottrell said that the Church had to be “very penitent about the way in which we have distorted the Christian faith over the centuries”.
“We’ve got nothing to be proud of,” he said. “Our history has been a really difficult history. . . Human beings are fallen, and just because you are part of the Church doesn’t make you immune to that. . . We’ve turned the cross of Christ, the great symbol of God’s complete sharing in what it is to be human . . . the complete outpouring of love and peace . . . into a sword to beat the world with.
“The good thing nowadays is the Church isn’t that strong, and, although, of course, I long for more people to come; so many people have never really heard the Christian faith . . . they think they know what it’s about, but they don’t. I long for that to change. But, actually, a poorer, weaker, less strong Church might be a good thing. It’ll make us a little less pompous, a little more humble, a little more determined just to get alongside people, and I think that’s a good thing.”
The conversation, broadcast as part of Mr Brand’s Under the Skin podcast, was prompted by Mr Brand’s encounter with Bishop Cottrell’s book on the work of Stanley Spencer, Christ in the Wilderness. It began with a prayer, and went on to cover the person of Jesus (“Jesus isn’t just a good bloke”), the message of the Christian faith (God saying, “Russell, I love you”), and the Reformation.
“The Church of England . . . has always had this idea, which I think is a beautiful idea, that we are the Church for everybody; we are the Church of people who don’t go to church,” Bishop Cottrell said. “We are involved in all kinds of stuff, which isn’t about trying to get more people to come to church — we would love them to come, they are very welcome — but we seek to embody and express the care of Jesus Christ for everybody.”
Mr Brand, who is studying for an MA in religion in global politics at SOAS, described himself as “a perennialist: a person that looks to see the love in various scriptures”. He recalled sensing “almost a degree of apology” while taking part in marriage preparation at a C of E church, and being struck by a quote from Isaiah at Brixton Prison (“Fear not, for I have redeemed you”).
He will speak at Greenbelt this summer (News, 29 March).