Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Tag: church of england

The Coming Religious Revival?

A Zoom service as they used to be done

Those who read The Observer newspaper last weekend might have been reassured that COVID-19, at least in the United Kingdom, is preparing the ground for a religious revival: “British public turn to prayer as one in four tune in to religious services”. One in four! When was the last time the Church of England had that kind of reach! It must mean that the decision to close the church (buildings) while opening the church (digital) was the correct one. Allowing the people of England to see church ministers sharing in the isolation and hardships of lockdown, not hoarding the sacrament or the church building to themselves, was a prompting of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps even a precursor to the revival of religion in England?

The article reported that a quarter of adults in the UK have “watched or listened to a religious service since the coronavirus lockdown began”. One in 20 “started praying during the crisis.” And it gets demographically better:  a third of young adults aged between 18 and 34 “had watched or listened to an online or broadcast religious service”, compared with “one in five adults over the age of 55.”

The coming religious revival will be young!

And the CofE has been working directly to assist this revival in religious engagement:

6,000 people phoned a prayer hotline in its first 48 hours of operation.

Of course, when reading beyond the headline there were, or should have been, caveats:

  • The article was illustrated with picture of Dawn French as the Vicar of Dibley, a TV sitcom that never worried too much about an accurate depiction of parish life or sacrificial vocation – and an sitcom that hasn’t been made for 13 years. This is not cutting edge Christian discipleship.
  • The article was based on an opinion poll commissioned by Tearfund, the evangelical Christian aid agency. I have no doubt about the integrity of both Tearfund and Savanta ComRes, the polling company that conducted the survey. I am sure it was done with the utmost scientific integrity, but I wonder if a poll commissioned by the National Secular Society would have found the same results?
“have another opinion poll done showing the exact opposite…”
  • The article also mentioned another survey commissioned for Christian Aid, asking people’s opinions about the best “screen priest” to lead the nation through the crisis. In first place was the Rev Geraldine Granger, The Vicar of Dibley. Second was Sister Evangelina, from Call the Midwife. A strong third place showing was Father Ted Crilly, from Father Ted. How seriously are people taking these questions?
I hear you’re a trusted screen presence now, Father Ted!
  • Finally, the CofE’s figures show that less than one person from each of the church’s 12,500 parishes has telephoned Daily Hope, the name given to the hotline. As a friend of mine (a parish priest) said, even the most hopeless parish priest in England is capable of ringing more than one person every two days, surely?

It wasn’t until the Church Times was printed on Friday that I thought any more about the survey. Andrew Brown, in his consistently incisive press column, had actually looked at the structure and findings of the survey (Press: The case for and against a spiritual revival £):

“The findings of the poll reinforce indications of an increase in the numbers of people turning to faith for succour amid uncertainty and despair.”

That seemed an entirely straightforward lead; and so it would have been had it not been for the researchers’ conscientiousness. They did not only ask people what they had started doing since the lockdown; they also asked what they had stopped doing. 

emphasis added

So, it turns out, the conscientious pollsters of Savanta ComRes discovered that although five per cent of the sample had started praying, six per cent had stopped. Five per cent had started mindfulness or meditation; eight per cent had stopped.

Now, I’m an Arts graduate, without a background in advanced statistical analysis and I am willing to be demonstrated wrong, but if 5% have started praying and 6% have stopped praying, doesn’t that mean that fewer people are praying?

Furthermore, Savanta ComRes pressed on to ask who it is that people trust now, in the days of Coronatide. Question 7 asks: “to what extent, if at all, do you trust each of the following to provide information and guidance in the face of the COVID-19 crisis?” The answer is not good for a coming religious revival:

Family members53%10%
Government leader51%21%
Faith leader20%31%
Social media14%53%
(the missing %s are “don’t know” and “don’t care”)

“Faith Leaders slightly more trusted than Twitter shock!”

If you drill down to identify age, social class, geographical locality, and actual religious observance, as opposed to nominal allegiance, the figures become even more concerning.

Of those who describe themselves as religiously observant (whose prayer life could be described as praying regularly), 18% distrust faith leaders to give information and guidance in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. And for those who actually attend church, the number is 19%.

To know us is to distrust us.

Is there is to be a coming religious revival, then it won’t come by applying technological “solutionism”1 to the anxieties of the British public. The only religious revival that has ever taken ‘hold’ in England has been sort of revival that grew from slow, conscientious ministry exemplified by Augustine and his fellows:

“They were constantly engaged in prayers, in vigils and fasts. …they despised all worldly things as foreign to them; they accepted only the necessaries of life from those they taught; in all things they practised what they preached and kept themselves prepared to endure adversities, even to the point of dying for the truths they proclaimed.”

“Many found faith and were baptized through their admiration of the simplicity of it all.”

The judgment of the Venerable Bede and Henry Mayr-Harting
  1. about which I want to say more in a future posting []

Getting the Diocesan Strapline Right

A guest post from the Rev’d Dr P.T. (name changed to protect the cynical):

As you will be aware one of the major tasks facing the dioceses of the Church of England is to ensure that they have the correct three word strapline or slogan. If we can only get that right then surely the kingdom will arrive. However some of you may be nervous that you are serving in a Diocese whose strapline is rubbish. That is why I have done extensive research and put the (rather limited selection of) words used to construct these straplines into a wordle. It is attached. If you belong to a Diocese where they say: ‘God transforming communities’, you could not be in a better place. If you are ‘empowering diverse worship’ you need to look for a move. I note that ‘Jesus’ and ‘love’ do not appear, and that ‘transform’ appears once in the NRSV translation of the Bible.

PS – the word fatuous never passed my lips.

A Blueprint for the Reconstruction of the Ministry (or, “are we there yet?”)

There is no doubt that what the evidence urges upon us is a reform of the ministerial structure and of the pastoral machinery of the Church… Though the difficulties stare us in the face, the alternatives are chilling— to do nothing, which means to abandon the nation to its religious decline and the clergy to their isolation, or to attempt a few piecemeal reforms which may save face but leave the central missionary problem to the conurbations unresolved. The crux of the whole problem… seem to me this— though short of manpower the Church cannot use the clergy it has effectively as it ought to: it is a bad steward. It needs more clergy, but it has no moral right to ask for them unless it can deploy them effectively. … At the same time it does not want a harassed, servile, or timid clergy as the price of reorganisation: as a profession the clergy needs to be raised in standards and stature, not lowered.

Any guess as to author and date?

  • Leslie Paul (a professional sociologist)
  • January 1964.1

So the question occurs to me, will someone wake me up when we get there?

  1. Leslie A. Paul, The Deployment and Payment of the Clergy (Westminster: Church Information Office for the Central Advisory Council for the Ministry, 1964), p. 171. []

News from York

News from BBC online

Well… quite!

(I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that if we don’t want them1 as bishops, then we shouldn’t baptise them).

If I come across any blog comments worth reading, that don’t rehash the arguments of fifteen years ago, then I might link them here.

  1. insert group of your choice here []