Holy Smoke

American Christianity will recover from the virus, but English churches are in big trouble

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In this episode

Damian Thompson

When the shadow of the coronavirus is finally lifted, the British public will have a long list of people to thank: doctors, nurses, cleaners, shop assistants, charities and – maybe – Boris Johnson. But there won’t be a round of applause for the parish clergy, that’s for sure, and it's not really their fault: the bishops, especially the Catholic ones, have mishandled the Covid crisis spectacularly.

One might have guessed as much. For years, the two main churches have been in the hands of mildly spiritual middle-managers who have somehow managed to acquire mitres.

And in the United States? To be sure, there are bishops and pastors who, like the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, form a Mafia of the Mediocre. But there is dynamism, too, and it’s interesting to note the extent to which successful Catholic and Protestant parishes share a common culture.

My guest this week is Keith Stanfield, the brilliant young violinist whose Opus 76 String Quartet played Beethoven for us so beautifully a few weeks ago. In addition to having played football for Western Samoa in World Cup qualifying matches, Keith has worked in the US financial sector. He’s a practising Catholic and a keen observer of the Evangelical churches where he regularly performs. He expresses some strong opinions in this episode. So do I. You'll also hear a few seconds of ear-splittingly hideous music and some pointed remarks about the impending vandalism of the Westminster Cathedral Choir. Please listen!