Church of england

The Church of England’s volunteering crisis

John Betjeman knew that a church cannot run on prayers alone. ‘Let’s praise the man who goes to light the church stove on an icy night,’ he wrote in his poem ‘Septuagesima’, going on to celebrate the ‘hard-worked’ wardens, cleaners, treasurers, the organist and, most of all, ‘the few who are seen in their accustomed pew’ come rain or shine. ‘And though they be but two or three,’ he concluded. ‘They keep the church for you and me.’ In smaller churches, filling voluntary vacancies is a headache, not helped by ever-increasing bureaucracy Some vicars today may feel fortunate to garner two or three volunteers. A recent Church Times survey found

Has the C of E got its reparations bill all wrong?

Reparations have a troubled history, and rightly. The word itself, in its familiar sense, seems to have been a euphemism thought up by lawyers after the first world war. President Woodrow Wilson had promised a peace ‘without indemnities’. So no indemnities: ‘reparations’ instead. It sounded less objectionable. It was further agreed that liability should cover only demonstrable damage, not be punishment for the act of war itself – a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented concession by the victors to the vanquished (who had themselves recently imposed heavy indemnities on Russia, and before that on France). Yet reparations – relatively modest in total and largely unpaid – still became probably the most

How the Church of England patronises African Christians

17 min listen

In this episode of Holy Smoke, I’m joined by The Spectator’s features editor William Moore, who asks in this week’s issue of the magazine whether the Church of England is ‘apologising for Christianity’. A report by the Oversight Group, set up by the Church Commissioners to make reparations for African slavery, not only wants to see unimaginable sums transferred to ‘community groups’ – its chair, the Bishop of Croydon, thinks a billion pounds would be appropriate – it also deplores the efforts of Christian missionaries to eradicate traditional religious practices. But, as Will’s article points out, those traditional practices included – at their most extreme – idol-worship, twin infanticide and cannibalism. Are

Will the Red Wall revolt split the right?

48 min listen

On the podcast this week: is Rishi ready for a Red Wall rebellion?  Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform is an indication of the final collapse of the Tories’ 2019 electoral coalition and the new split in the right, writes Katy Balls in her cover story. For the first time in many years the Tories are polling below 25 per cent. Reform is at 15 per cent. The hope in Reform now is that Anderson attracts so much publicity from the right and the left that he will bring the party name recognition and electoral cut-through. Leader of Reform UK Richard Tice joins Katy on the podcast to discuss. (02:23) Then:

William Moore

Is the C of E about to say sorry for Christianity?

Is the Church of England going to apologise for Christianity? A report by something called the Oversight Group has declared that the Church should say sorry publicly, not just for profiting from the evils of slavery (through investment in the South Sea Company) but for ‘seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems’. And having apologised, it recommends the Church ‘reach beyond theological institutions’ and ‘enable all Africans to discover the varied belief systems and spiritual practices of their forbears and their efficacy’. What would such an apology say about the Ugandan Martyrs executed in the 1880s by King Mwanga II? The Oversight Group is an independent committee, but

Is the Church of England giving up on Sunday worship?

What a clash of the titans we witnessed at the weekend. The Lionesses vs Divine Worship on a Sunday morning. An unfortunate conflict of timings meant that just as the England women’s football team were limbering up to kick the first ball in Australia, church services in England were launching into their first hymn. The Church of England knew which side it was on. ‘I know lots of people will want to watch the match live. That is fine from the Church of England’s point of view. Others will prefer to go to church and avoid knowing the score until they can watch the match on catch-up, and that is

God the ‘Father’ isn’t sexist

Calling God ‘Father’ may be ‘problematic’, pronounced the Archbishop of York at Friday’s formal opening of the General Synod. Watching the live stream, I did a double take and had to rewind a few seconds to play it back. Did he really just say this? Archbishop Stephen Cottrell explained his reasoning: ‘For all of us who have laboured too much from an oppressively patriarchal grip on life…’ Who is the ‘us’ here? Is it too personal to ask what in Cottrell’s history has been oppressive? Can he really claim to have laboured under the patriarchy? The calculation is that there needs to be a revolution so that the unchurched masses, especially

Why millennial men are turning to the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival in the Church of England, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. Over the past two years, more and more churchgoers have asked me about a return to Thomas Cranmer’s exquisite language, essentially unaltered since 1662, for church services and private devotions. Other vicars tell me they have had a similar increase in interest.   It helps that the Book of Common Prayer has had a fair bit of attention recently. The late Queen Elizabeth’s insistence on the use of Prayer Book texts in her funeral rites meant that in September more people witnessed the beauty of this liturgical treasure than watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. The

Why it’s time to go back to church

Somewhere in the midst of the hurly-burly antics and preoccupations of life, I think maybe, I’m probably a Christian. Not the type who sings in church with his eyes shut, but an extremely moderate, unthinking Anglican for whom the prospect of the existence of nothing is too painful for words. That makes me the sort of Anglican who starts to pray once the 747 has been in freefall for six seconds or more over the Atlantic, or the type that looks heavenward when Harry Kane is about to take the most important penalty in the recent history of English football. As a result, the Great Being plays precious little part

The Queen’s life was anchored by Christianity

King Charles III began his first speech as monarch by recalling the pledge made by his mother on her 21st birthday in 1947. Speaking from Cape Town on the occasion of her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth declared ‘before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family’. She ended by saying: ‘God help me to make good my vow and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.’ We know now that the Queen was given a long life during which the world, as it was when she was

‘Jerusalem’ is a rousing anthem – but who knows what the words mean?

The spontaneous mass adoption of deep feeling is always interesting. Jason Whittaker has a very good subject, in the journey of the cryptic lyric section of the preface to William Blake’s incomprehensible epic Milton, written and illustrated between 1804 and 1810, to its becoming the de facto national anthem of England. ‘And did those feet…’ only took on its familiar title ‘Jerusalem’ (which has nothing to do with Blake’s poem entitled ‘Jerusalem’) after it was set to music by Hubert Parry on 10 March 1916. The following day, Parry handed over his composition to his colleague Walford Davies, saying insouciantly: ‘Here’s a tune for you, old chap. Do what you

In defence of meddlesome priests

The British constitution is best understood as a dinner party. Imagine the key institutions of national life personified and sat around a table debating the issues of the day. True, as you and I picture this scene it is now a little late in the evening, the surroundings are worn and some hitherto unheard voices are beginning to loudly bark above the polite murmur of the older interlocutors. But the conversation carries on. One of the longest-standing participants in this national conversation is the Church of England; indeed, perhaps only the Crown has been part of it for longer. The traditions of Toryism and liberalism are comparative newcomers, Labour even

The art of changing your mind

Some years ago there was a study at Harvard that tried to find out what people did when they held an incorrect opinion. Not an opinion of the kind that the era happens to deem incorrect, but one that is actually, provably not the case. The study looked at what happened when that factually incorrect view was introduced to the evidence that it was wrong. We might hope that the results would be clear: man holding wrong view meets the right view, immediately throws up his hands and asks himself how he could have been such a dolt. Alas, as anyone who has ever been married will know, people do

How do we celebrate Easter in the shadow of war?

This week has been Passiontide, which means lots of wonderful plainsong in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral as my predecessors sleep. Holy Week began on Sunday in the shadow of war, suffering, loss and pain. How do we celebrate the promise of everlasting life in such darkness? Good Friday is ‘good’ because on the cross we see the goodness of God in the middle of the mess of our own creation. Jesus refuses to answer his accusers on their terms, to use his own power to overcome by force, or to see others hurt – even those who hurt him. Jesus lays down his life for the sake of others.

Letters: In defence of the police

A health-care disaster Sir: Kate Andrews’s piece on who really controls the NHS (‘Waiting game’, 12 February) gives us a flavour of how things have come to this: an unaccountable health service with a government attached. We are about to enter a new phase, with additional taxation in the form of increased NI based on promises which are already looking hollow — waiting lists will continue to rise. There is no sign that the 100,000 key workers who are needed are going to be found any time soon. The truth of the matter is that the people have been fed a number of lies for decades: that health care in

Bring back communion wine

The Church of England has always been clever at producing theology to suit itself. If we don’t start protesting, we may never get communion wine back again. Too many risk-averse clergy have discovered how efficient, hygienic and cheap it is just to give us a wafer each. They explain it away by reminding us that ‘Christ is sacramentally and equally present in both the bread and the wine, so if you receive only one, nothing is lacking’. ‘But it’s so unfair,’ I want to hiss at the presiding priest when I see him or her having a sip of wine ‘on behalf of the congregation’. ‘It’s one rule for you,

Letters: Unfair care costs will turn the red wall blue

Take care Sir: Your editorial (‘Counting the costs’, 8 January) makes valid points regarding the funding of social care. The good people of the north in the red-wall seats will be rightly appalled. A couple who have worked hard and made their own way onto the property ladder must wonder what they have voted for. They sit on a property worth £100,000 to £200,000. If they need a care home, they will see their children’s legacy disappear into the hole of care costs while knowing that they are subsidising the same care costs of millionaires. This is deeply unfair and, I daresay, anti-Conservative. There should be no care costs on

Divided we stand: Anglicans need to agree to disagree

Two years ago the Church of England decided to delay any public discussion of its deepest division, over homosexuality, until 2022. So this might be the year in which an already troubled institution has a dramatic public meltdown. Or it might be the year in which the Church of England sorts itself out a bit. Yes, really. Stranger miracles have happened. There are grounds for hope, and not just on the gay issue. The Church has a core strength that it could draw on, and a core identity that could stand it in good stead, though one it is weirdly shy to assert. First let’s admit that things haven’t been

The churches must stay open

Hooray for Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who used the one day of the year when his pronouncements are amplified by the season to ‘sincerely appeal that [the government] do not again consider closing churches and places of worship.’ He said in a BBC interview he believed it had been demonstrated that the airiness of churches meant they are ‘not places where we spread the virus’. Mind you, Catholic churches weren’t as bad as the Church of England This is, of course, entirely sensible. It was nuts for churches to close at the start of lockdown, at least as spaces for prayer if not for communal worship. Pretty well any church is ‘Covid-safe’, in

Why is Microsoft offended by ‘Mrs Thatcher’?

The interregnum between incumbents is a well-known and often elongated process in the Church of England. I have recently witnessed this one because my wife is churchwarden of one of the three churches (we Catholics operate under a different system) in the benefice. Interregnums are arduous for all church volunteers and tend to erode parish life. It is remarkable how much there is for churchwardens to do. Dioceses tend to demand and obstruct rather than ease and encourage. Luckily, we are blessed with an excellent archdeacon who cherishes parish life and has declared there will be no more closures of churches in the district; but the bureaucratic flow of dos