Sunday, March 23, 2008


Church this morning was unusually heartening. Arriving a little early, I found the place remarkably full and in the kind of noisy cheerful bustle that we are told was usual in medieval parish churches. This was the tail end of a family service - plenty of children still racketing around - and the hubbub had barely died down when the next service got under way. This too was not far short of a full house - in a large church, offering only the traditional satisfactions of high Anglican holy communion. No guitars, no ecstatic poses, no fatuous exhortations, just men in vestments, incense, the words of the Book of Common Prayer only lightly modified, a sensible sermon, a sonorous organ and a choir in notably good voice (a fine Samuel Wesley anthem) - and, by way of surroundings, a handsome old church done over by late Victorian Anglo-Catholics with good taste and a lavish budget. Although grey was the predominant hair colour, the congregation were of all ages, both sexes, several races and, by the look of it, social classes.
Anyone looking ahead from even ten years ago, let alone 20 or 30, would, I think, have been surprised to find that, rather than discreet decline, what seems to be going on here is a story of recovery and newfound confidence. As I said, very heartening. I wonder if similar scenes were being enacted all around the country, and, if so, what it means - the first signs that Christian England is at last waking up to itself? Listening to the forthright words of John Sentamu on the radio earlier today only reinforced the impression that, yes, perhaps it could be so...
(By the way, I am not a regular churchgoer - little more than Christmas and Easter. Nor am I at all sure I can even describe myself as a Christian.)


  1. What a pity that, like most in the media, you felt obliged to assure your readers that you are not really a Christian. You are quite right, of course. From your blog we might have got quite the wrong impression about you, so you did well to cover your bases.

  2. If it does recover, it probably won't be due to an uptick in bi-annual church attendance by post-Christians.

    Being a full-blown atheist in a religion-soaked country, I find it hard to share your nostalgia, though being an ex-Catholic I can understand your aesthetic yearning for the solemn high church experience. Among American religions, Catholicism has the highest defect rate. It might have something to do with a theology that retains little of its former urgency. In my parent's day being a Catholic was an absolutely essential, though not sufficient, requisite for being saved. According to this article by Avery Cardinal Dulles, even an unregenerate atheist like myself is eligible for salvation nowadays. So why join, or why remain? Aesthetics alone won't maintain the faith.

  3. I sometimes think it's all there is, Christianity, and that I should accept Christ, get on with life and stop fannying about.
    Then I take to drink at the weekend, the melting...
    I am weak.

  4. Not me, Mike, this post was by Nige

  5. Nige indeed, and merely clarifying. It's a very hard thing to profess yourself a Christian - I have a particular problem with the Nicene creed, which seems to me to miss the point entirely. Obviously if pressed, esp if presented with a Yes/No with no getout, I would say Yes.

  6. Very strange, the Dulles thing, Duck. It was all those years ago listening to Fr K saying that you needed to be in the club to be saved. What about the babies up mountains in Nepal? "Not in club' lad." There and then it was that I laid down my bag of religious rocks. I remember the same argument about all those good guys from the OT - they weren't washed in the blood of the lamb either. Some vague theological geegaw was brought to bear. What tosh, I thought, and I still think it.

    I miss the bells and smells though. Easter Saturday (?) Benediction was a feast for the imagination. I remember one. I guess I was six or seven and the sun streamed through the incense-laden air. I believed in something that day alright. Ho hum.

  7. as it happened I caught some of John Sentanu on the radio and found him obtuse. I felt the interviewer's frustration. it's a pity because no one does christianity quite like black culture. give me that old gospel choir anytime!

    easter is a time of half-remembered rituals and confused traditions. hunting for painted eggs in the churchyard after service is a great game, but I'm glad they don't burn witches any more.