Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Carry On Up The Aisle...

The Bishop Of Reading, Rt Rev Stephen Cotrell, has been stirring public debate as he promoted the Church of England's Back To Church campaign.

This comes after Anglican officials released figures showing average attendance at CofE churches on Sundays dropped below 1m for the first time in 2007.

In an bold statement he argued that perceptions of church-going as a middle-class pursuit has held the communion back from reaching out to a wider audience and resulted in too few in the pews:
"How did it come to this, that we have become the Marks & Spencer's option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Aldi or Lidl? [...] Even today I meet people who think you have to be highly-educated or suited and booted to be a person who goes to church."
But Anne Ashcroft comments in the Times that now is no time to alienate the middle-classes, as these good souls are the only ones currently filling the pews. She also notes how the evangelical mega-church phenomenon is taking the lessons learnt by those exact same supermarket chains the Bishop denigrates to boost congregation numbers.

Meanwhile brand and marketing expert Dan Douglass gets to the heart of the values question in a highly entertaining and enlightening piece.

He states that "we are nevertheless in thrall to market forces and we rebound back to the proven, the tried and tested."

He compares the campaign to necrotizing fasciitis and says it smacks of desperation and may signify an organisation which has lost integrity and lacks personality to engage with people on their own levels.

You can almost hear his years of experience in account management as he tears his hair out asking 'why is the Church crucifying itself?'

Peter Ashley agrees. The architectural photographer argues that the church must rediscover it's true heritage to reconnect with itself and "instil calm, simple faith" in people.

The Guardian's Stephen Tomkins attempts to trap the Zeitgeist as he asks whether the church has typically "leant too much to the brioche-and-scallops end of the market, losing touch with the sardines-on-toast end?"

He takes direct aim at the retrograde conservative elements in the Church of England by describing his personal view of the organisation as "neither posh nor common particularly, but rather like someone so insecure they change their accent depending on whom they're talking too."

George Pitcher also scoffs at the Rev Cotrell's tone in the Daily Telegraph. He explains that he felt patronised when listening to the Bishop say "We have to learn to speak the language of ordinary people," describing his rustic Berkshire accent as 'cut glass'.

Readers can judge the accuracy of that for yourselves by listening to the Bishop respond in his weekly missive for BBC Berkshire.

And finally, International Supermarket News delights in the aptness of the analogy, explaining that in a consumerist society it is easy to see supermarkets as modern cathedrals!
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  1. I dunno, OJ. The M&S metaphor was lost on me. I see the cars lined up on the streets around the Christchurch Road church on Sunday mornings, and I feel sorry for them for losing all those hours of their lives to worshipping a deity. Even if there is a deity, who knows if he really requires institutionalized worshipping? Elizabeth

  2. Well exactly! One of the biggest differences between supermarkets and churches is their opening hours - I guess for many people it's as much to do with convenience as it is to do with community...

  3. OP, you seem to be suggesting that praying in a church is inherently good and shopping inherently bad (or pointless?) I hate shopping too but clearly the majority of people don't feel this way. Also isn't the point of a church service that the vicar gets to socialise with the "flock" and preach to a congregation (and collect money)? I think churches are open all the time if you just want to drop in and pray on your own.

    My suggestion to the CofE would be that they ditch the superstition (faith) part and just focus on the morality and charity parts of their business; these seem to be the only artefacts of the institution that people feel warrants their attention if live aid, comic relief and children in need are anything to go by.


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