Sunday, 27 September 2009

Back to 1662

Today is apparently 'Back to Church Sunday'. There's been some radio commercials, a website and the Bishop of Reading has come out to say, in response to the dramatic falling-off of attendance: "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?". I think he's summed it all up in just that one crass statement. The Church of England has for far too long tried to re-invent itself, to appeal to a culture far more interested in being in B&Q on a Sunday. It started with the New English Bible (sic), the attempt to subvert and alter the Book of Common Prayer, ripping out pews, hiding the altar behind an Ikea table, sacking the organist and putting pimply youths in front of guitar stands on the chancel steps. The CofE had a simply irreplaceable heritage that has been squandered and vandalised. Toilet block additions, solar panels instead of lead (if it's not already been nicked) and leasing out the nave to Halfords. Listen bishops. Kick out the moneychangers like Our Lord did before he went down to Aldi, stick some decent flowers round the pulpit, re-install the organ, dust off the 1662 Prayer Books, bring back Hymns Ancient and Modern and preach proper sermons that are both intelligent and inspirational. Stop everyone embarrassingly having to hug each other and just instil calm, simple faith in people. Of course there's much more you've got to do, and Norman architecture and chucking canteen chairs out of cathedrals won't do it on its own. God help us. The church pictured is Kings Norton in Leicestershire.

17 comments:

Wartime Housewife said...

The biggest problem The Church of England has to contend with is that people have no 'still small voice of calm'. Attention spans are minimal, communities are often non-existent, many people spend Sunday shopping or slumped in front of the tv. The churches that are full have simply bought into the pop culture generation, and re-branded it 'relevancy'. I had a discussion recently with someone who attends a church with a regular congregation of 300; services are conducted according to who is running them (a song, a thing, a song, a thing etc)and anyone can lead the service. Whilst I'm thrilled for them, what I want from church is time to reflect about who and what is important in my life, a sermon that will give me something to think about for days to come, uplifting songs. The advantage of a set service is that when the words become second nature, it gives you the brain space to think about what those words mean. There is also meditiative quality in reciting words of beauty (1662) in the company of your neighbours, of hearing the Gospel in the language of poetry (King James). I would rather sit in peace with 12 elderly people in Thorpe Langton any day, than be tormented by bad pop music with 300 shiny-eyed relevants.

Diplomate said...

Kings Norton's a booby dazzler - love the tree pruning in the foreground. One of the crucial bits of church atmosphere that needs preserving is that drop in temperature as you pass through the door, the sound of wheezing, slightly un-sure organ action and the welcoming smile of the verger who's lurched over to help you in and put a stop to the din created by your failed efforts with the rust seized door latch. He will then wave his arm around the near empty house, offering you a seat near one of the spluttering calor gas heaters.

TIW said...

"Relevancy" for its own sake is the first thing i'll ban when I'm emperor. "Relevancy" is the reason Keighley library (the first Carnegie Library in England and what could have justly been called a Working Class University) now has not many books but does have a snack vending machine and lots of loud yoofs looking at porn on the internet.

Martin H. said...

I am not a churchgoer - I've read too much about the origins of Christianity to be able to subscribe to the doctrine and beliefs of any contemporary church - but I share your views. The embarrassment of watching the Church contort itself in a misguided attempt to appear 'modern' is excruciating. It's akin to your parents trying to use trendy slang or politicians disco dancing. I think the Church should try to be an organisation that people look to for guidance and support and for that it needs to retain a bit of dignity.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I'm not a churchgoer either, and I can cope with a discreet solar panel or two on a roof. But I do care about the depressing, banal language that seems to be used nowadays to address God and to discuss religious matters, the dire music, the replacing of rituals with meaningless and embarrassing gestures, the erosion of mystery and exaltation from religion. A couple of years ago I met a vicar who tried to convince me that the words of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible were 'dead' - people needed words they could understand, she patiently explained. I was, I'm afraid, too speechless to argue, too exasperated to retort, 'Dead like Shakespeare?' or to point out that a God who can be addressed in the banal language trotted out in many churches today can't be a God at all. I suppose it wouldn't have done any good if I had argued. She was I think not even a supporter of the aridities of the New English Bible, preferring the Good News version ('In the beginning the Word already existed' [John 1:1]; '...if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.' [1 Corinthians 13:1]; and so on). Bah!

On the positive side, I'm still thankful to the Church of England for maintaining thousands of beautiful buildings in which I can find space or quiet reflection – when there's no one else, least of all someone leading a service, around.

Sue said...

The rot started when I was at school and we had "Lord of the Dance" at assembly instead of "Immortal, Invisible."

Thud said...

As a low key left footer I tend to search out the more traditional services...the more latin the better.

Ron Combo said...

Oh Lord, you will know all too well that I just dare not start on this subject. Red rags and bulls. But I will anyway. When I lived in Bristol I went to my first (and only) service at St. Matthew's, Cotham where the vicar turned, sneeringly, towards the beautiful carved stone early Victorian pulpit and declared his intention to remove it to make way for the slide projection screen after which he introduced Dave who wanted to play something for everyone on his guitar. I, in desperation, wrote to John Osborne c/o The Spectator and he kindly replied from his Kentish farmhouse "say not the struggle naught availeth" and advised The Prayer Book Society. Which, a few years later, introduced me to Lord Sudeley and optimal docking procedures in the port of Istanbul.

Peter Ashley said...

And Ron, if my memory's intact, the Prayer Book Society also introduced you to the bell used to start trains off on the original Stockton to Darlington Railway?

Diplomate said...

blimey Ron - I simply had no idea, that explains a lot.

Ron Combo said...

Yes Peter, and Prince Charles.
Diplo, the Lord Sudeley story demands face-to-face recounting over a couple of pints. He's one of us.

accountant said...

I am not a churcgoer but I remember as a child being sent to Sunday school followed by church where you were given the Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient and Modern, one with a blue cover and one with a red cover. I might note the attempts to liven services up was in part to the rapidly falling congregations even before sunday shopping at out of town centres became the new past-time on the seventh day. I will agree that my encounters with the new service book have not been very inspiring with lots of flicking pages to find the alternative prayers etc. The language seems to be an uneasy compramise between the old and the new. It really needs someone with profound faith and an elegant turn of phrase to rewrite the service book starting from scratch.

Kings Norton church was built in the mid-eighteenth century by a member of the Wing family of stonemasons and architects. It is not clear whether the church is built as part of the on-going Gothic tradition or is a very early example of Gothic revival. When originaly built the church had a spire until it was struck by lightning sometime in the 1860's The church still looks perfect without it. The building was paid for by a Mr Fortrey a local squire who was interested in change ringing on bells. As well as the bells there is a machine for playing tunes on the bells, it is a wooden drum with nails hammered in, which as the drum rotates strike levers that activate the bell ringing mechanism, rather like a barrel organ. I think it is powered by clockwork.

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Accountant. Kings Norton is one of my favourite churches, so unspoiled.

Eigon said...

Interesting how many people here begin by saying "I'm not a churchgoer, but..."
I am a churchgoer, and I like both The Lord of the Dance and Immortal, Invisible. I like 'smells and bells' services where the incense is so thick you can hardly see the priest, and Quaker services where you sit around a bare room in silence. I can even tolerate the 'happy-clappy' services!
The point is, that there is room for all sorts of different worship. Over the past 2,000 years, music in churches has included choirs, organs, 'church bands' that played in the village pub the night before, guitars - and as far as I'm concerned these are superficial differences. There should be room for all sorts of different styles - it's the worship that matters.
If you really want worship that is unchanging, and has remained pretty much as you see it today right from the early days of Christianity, forget the 1662 Prayer Book and head for the nearest Greek Orthodox Church.

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Eigon, your comments are much appreciated. I'd love to go to a Quaker service, sounds right up my wandering street.

Eigon said...

I only recently discovered this blog - and I'm enjoying it immensely!
And I can honestly say that I have never met an unpleasant Quaker - they've always been really lovely people.

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