As I say, I haven’t written much about the dear old C of E lately. This is because it doesn’t feel all that dear to me right now, for a variety of reasons.
Last week I went down to a cathedral city where I used to work. I had read all about the terrible saga of former SPCK bookshops, and wanted to go in and see the shop I used regularly. All the staff I knew were sacked on 7 February. The manager is still working there, but for how long, we don’t know. The shop looks terrible. Downstairs is a pile of stuff that no-one wants to buy. Upstairs, the manager was filling the shelves with antique book stock that has presumably come from the former Charles Higham second hand store; loads of dusty tomes, books of sermons, ancient theology and Bible study texts that no-one could possible want to buy. I am rarely shocked these days, but that was shocking. I presume that those who now own these shops, if they are acting on any sane level, are simply stripping out the assets; this cannot possibly be any kind of real business plan. In the meantime, those who want to browse through today’s theological writing, find study aids for church groups, or just buy their candles and baptism certificates, must go elsewhere (where?) or shop online, I suppose. Deeply disturbing.
I enjoyed Victoria Coren’s Observer article on the McNoot Awards (“My Church Needs One Of Those!”), all about the latest in technological gadgetry as applied to so-called Christian mission in the twenty-first century. The accompanying picture is of a text message quotation from I Corinthians 13, shown quite clearly to be the King James or Authorised Version of the Bible. What possible sense is there in sending out messages with twenty-first century technology, written in seventeenth century language? It has long puzzled me as to why anyone should think that randomly advertising, posting, spouting, shouting, reading, texting, emailing or otherwise circulating unconnected verses and passages of scripture should ever have any noticeable effect on anyone. When I was child, waiting for the big steam hauled trains to take us on holiday, I used to read “The Wayside Pulpit” notices on stations, though I never understood them. I am old enough to remember the sandwich board men who walked the town centres of our land with placards reading “Repent and Believe!” It had no effect whatsoever on me, and I went on to get ordained. You can still see ranting preachers in some city shopping arcades. People, including me, cross the street to avoid them. What use is that?
One of the first cartoon jokes I can remember showed a man in a long mac with long unkempt hair and a long beard, wearing sandwich boards. In the first picture he is walking towards you, and the board reads “The End is Nigh”. In the second picture you get a rear view as he walks away, and the board reads “A Merry Christmas to all our Readers!”