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

Letters: It’s time for the common cup to return to communion

The Bull of Oman Sir: There was one significant omission in the cast of characters mentioned by Charles Moore in his notes on the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces (Notes, 19 February): General Sir Timothy Creasey KCB . The omission is all the more surprising given the key role Margaret Thatcher played in getting General Tim to take up the Sultan’s invitation to go back out to Oman as deputy commander in chief and chief of defence staff. Having been instrumental in achieving a satisfactory resolution of the insurrection in Dhofar as a senior loan service officer, General Tim was highly regarded by the Sultan but he was not keen

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,

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 I’m paying my daughter to go to church

It would be weird if my 13-year-old daughter didn’t say she was an atheist. It’s what you say in our culture when you’re that age. To be honest it would creep me out a bit if she was all pious. But she is getting confirmed into the Anglican faith. This is a piece of hoop-jumping that her parents have decided to require of their children. I went for coffee with the vicar to ask if my daughter could join the classes. I admitted that she was a bit reluctant. In fact, it was a mixed picture. Whenever I mentioned confirmation she professed her atheism, but when I didn’t mention it

Justin Welby is missing a trick on climate change

Justin Welby urges us, echoing Deuteronomy, to ‘choose life’, so that our children may live. It is an apt use of scripture, in the face of the climate emergency. But his performance on Radio 4 this morning was far from impressive. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the need for ‘meaningful sacrifices’, but when asked which ones he was making he sounded a bit muddled, as if he was not ready for such an obvious question. His first answer was ‘recycling and all that’, a locution with an air of irritation, like a man too often nagged to take the bins out.  Can’t Lambeth Palace afford daily sausages? Asked about

The challenges of being an England supporter in Italy

Dante’s Beach, Ravenna My fiery Italian wife Carla is not just a passionate patriot but also a devout Catholic, and so with perfidious Albion looking good and leading gli azzurri one-nil she disappeared to wash her hair and pray to the Madonna. The next day, when the dust had settled, I asked her why. ‘I was suffering so much pain that I felt like swearing and blaspheming at the inglesi,’ she said. That left me — a lone inglese — in front of the TV with our six children (aged five to 17) who feel passionately Italian despite being half English. When Italy scored the dreaded equaliser they exploded with

Let hymn in: the silencing of indoor singing is senseless

‘And now we sing our final hymn, number 466.’ Remember that? The euphoria of congregational hymn-singing? The well-organised types always had the book open at the correct page, balanced precariously on the pew. The rest of us hurriedly flicked to 466 while singing the first verse, knowing it by heart from a thousand school assemblies. ‘Our shield and defender, the ancient of days…’ I can’t believe I’m writing this in the past tense, but it has been so long — almost 15 months — since anyone not in a choir sang a congregational hymn. How I miss that light-headedness, almost faintness, of standing up after a long service and singing

‘Spiritual but not religious’: the rise of consumerism in church

I was raised Christian and the more I’ve thought about it, the more curious something about my upbringing seems. My church was constantly denying it was ‘religious’. By any objective social–scientific measures, the community was decidedly religious. Maybe we weren’t that organised (there was no website), but we recited historic creeds, we submitted to the authority of a sacred text and we practised ancient rituals. We identified with the worldwide institutional expression of the body of Christ, yet we still liked to say we weren’t ‘religious’. Throughout my childhood I was reminded in sermon after sermon that we were ‘-Spiritual but not Religious’. One reason for this was a sincere

In America, politics has become a form of religion

When I finally head back to church this weekend, after a year of Covid-avoidance, it is going to feel a little strange. These past 12 months constitute the longest stretch of time I’ve been away since I was born. And I’m not going to lie, part of me liked the sudden plague-long dispensation. I’ve become used to the lazy, empty, gently unfolding Sundays. They’ve grown on me. I could live like this, it occurs to me — as so many others do, all the time. So why go back? When I ask myself what exactly I’ve missed, I realise it isn’t a weekly revelation. I don’t expect to feel something

Sturgeon suffers courtroom blow over church lockdown rules

The Scottish government has suffered a major reversal in court over its Covid-19 regulations. The Court of Session has found its blanket ban on public worship to be unlawful. In January, Nicola Sturgeon closed places of worship across Scotland ‘for all purposes except broadcasting a service or conducting a funeral, wedding, or civil partnership’. She said at the time that, while ministers were ‘well aware of how important communal worship is to people… we believe this restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission’. Canon Tom White, parish priest of St Alphonsus in Glasgow’s east end, and representatives of other Christian denominations, sought judicial review. They argued that this closure

How the Church of England can bounce back from its Covid crisis

The bishop of Manchester has warned that many Church of England churches are unlikely to survive the pandemic. The normal trickle of church closures (around 25 per year) is set to become a steady stream in the next few years. ‘I suspect the pace (of closures) will increase as a result of Covid’, the Right Rev David Walker has said. It will be a sad loss to the nation’s social fabric if hundreds of churches become flats, or offices, or are demolished. But there is another possibility. The pandemic has highlighted our need to invest in local communities, and this is an opportunity to do so. The government should give every church that cannot afford to

Vicars like me are struggling in lockdown

A year of living through a pandemic has taken its toll on the best of us. Vicars like me are no exception.  As a healthy and normally upbeat 52-year-old, this feeling of gloom is frighteningly new. Anecdotal stories from clergy friends tell a similar story to my own: the urge is to curl up and mask the misery with binge marathons of Netflix box sets. But this brings only short-term relief. A cursory look at social media posts show that a good number of vicars are struggling to keep it together.  The pressures on vicars come from every quarter. Some vicars have been landed with the impossible task of maintaining empty churches as elderly volunteers

Closing churches again would be a big mistake

It’s somehow not that surprising to find that the Bishop of London has gone on Twitter to suggest that churches should consider closing. Sarah Mullally wrote:  ‘The situation is serious in @dioceseoflondon do read the request from @londoncouncils and consider the seriousness of the situation as you take your local decisions.’ Well, thanks for that. Her observation is plainly intended to push for closures; it’s the only possible way of interpreting her contribution. And duly, she led the news this morning. She’s following Sadiq Khan here, mayor of London, who, when he declared a state of emergency yesterday, called for places of worship to close. It’s one thing for a politician

A woke church is doomed to fail

My church attendance leaves something to be desired and I can’t cite Bible verses for every occasion. Yet for as long as I can remember, I have been a staunch supporter of the Christian church. But while I’m always willing to speak up for the church, it is not always willing to defend itself. Iceland became a Christian country over a thousand years ago. Here, as in other Western countries, the teachings of Christianity and the work of the church have been enormously influential in shaping our societies. Yet all too often nowadays, the church in Western societies is silent on the issues that matter. All too often, it fails to

Why has England banned worship?

Over the weekend, more than a hundred religious figures from across the different faiths launched a legal challenge against the ban on communal worship in England. They claim the Covid restrictions are a violation of their basic human right to freedom of religious expression. Leaders from the Anglican and Catholic churches, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, are in agreement on how unfair they view the ban. It’s difficult to think of a cogent argument against their position.  For background, I am an atheist. Raised in a Catholic family, I never truly believed, even as a small child. Atheism has been something that has been with me throughout my whole

What should you charge for a virtual conference?

From time to time, every industry must adapt to some inconvenient technological advance. Suddenly, some part of what you offer can be reproduced or distributed in a new form. The temptation is to ignore the issue and hope it goes away. But if you don’t act, eventually some competitor, existing or new, surely will. Reinvention is a painful process. Hollywood’s reaction to the advent of television followed the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The same emotions played out in the response of the music industry to the arrival of digital downloads and streaming. Churches will have noticed that online congregations are larger than physical ones In

Will coronavirus hasten the demise of religion – or herald its revival?

On Saturday evening, Christians will prepare for an Easter unlike any other. With every church closed, from St Paul’s Cathedral to the meanest country chapel, Anglican worshippers will be directed to a website where lay leaders, priests and bishops will hold a ‘virtual vigil’ ending at dawn on Easter Sunday. In Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of Catholics in England and Wales, a deacon will sing the great Easter proclamation known as the Exsultet. But this year, when the final syllable dies away, he will look out into the nave and see row upon row of vacant seats. It’s faith, but without the faithful. It’s happening the world over. This

Letters: Why coronavirus is so hard to investigate

Corona mysteries Sir: John Lee highlights the issue of dying of seasonal flu vs dying of coronavirus when assessing attributable deaths (‘The corona puzzle’, 28 March). The obvious solution would be a high autopsy rate. However, autopsies on known or suspected coronavirus deaths are not being done in case they lead to mortuary technologists and pathologists becoming infected. (Tuberculosis, HIV and even rabies infections are easier to prevent in mortuary work than coronavirus.) This contributes to a lack of information about how coronavirus affects people. In the long term, it also seems unlikely that anatomical examination of the dead will revert to its pre-coronavirus autopsy rate of 17 per cent

The psychological and economic dangers of enforced idleness

‘Lourdes shrine closes healing pools as precaution against coronavirus,’ says a discouraging headline in the Catholic Herald. Jesus ‘made the lame to run’ and ‘gave the blind their sight’, but Christians are not like Jesus, however much they may try to imitate him. We lack miraculous powers; and so, in matters of life and death (though not of the afterlife), we must defer to the civil power. On Tuesday, our neighbour rang for my wife, who is a churchwarden, and asked: ‘Shall I open the church as usual this morning?’ After some rummaging on the diocesan website, she found that the answer, following Boris Johnson’s broadcast the night before, was