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Churches should not cancel services for the football

Is Christianity suffering from a class divide? Credit: Getty

August 19, 2023 - 10:45pm

Another football tournament, another messaging own goal for the leadership of the Church of England. On Friday, The Times reported the Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane, had given permission to churchgoers to miss Sunday service in favour of watching the women’s World Cup final. This was not quite accurate, but the paper did find several churches who were either cancelling services or re-organising them around the big match. A near-identical story played out last November, with regard to the men’s tournament.

It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at these stories, but there is perhaps a serious point to be made about how British Christianity — not just the Church of England — so often appears to be apologising for making any demands at all on its adherents. The desire to be liked, for example by taking a public interest in The Footie, is frequently palpable.

One possibility is that this is due to the preponderance of a particular kind of middle-class sensibility, a reluctance in some quarters to take any of the faith too seriously or to identify themselves with the weird, unpopular parts. This reluctance also helps to explain why less-educated and less well-off groups are disproportionately absent from British congregations — certainly within the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the traditional non-conformist churches.

Consider Christian leaders’ public political stances: anti-Brexit, pro-action on climate change, “anti-racist”, sceptical of border control, liberal on crime and punishment, and so on. Regardless of where you stand on these matters, it is hard to deny that, to the outsider, the churches’ political views look a lot like standard soft-Left politics laundered through the language and aesthetics of Christianity.

The faith often seems to have embraced a new mode of bourgeois respectability — not the old-fashioned kind, which was focused on keeping up appearances around dress and sexual propriety and social standing, but a new iteration, where correct political positions are the key to appearing Good. No wonder then if this all appears unattractive to those mystified or bored by the current preoccupations of the bourgeoisie.

It’s true also that many clergy have responded to the intellectual and scientific challenges of modernity by falling back on a sort of tactical ambiguity and vagueness about the Christian claims, to the point where it’s often not clear what, if anything, they stand for. This causes class division, as the more educated and intellectually inclined churchgoers are likely to find such obfuscation more tolerable and satisfactory than those who want clear, simple teaching. St Paul anticipated this problem, and staked out his belief in simple clarity, when he noted that “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”


Niall Gooch is a public sector worker and occasional writer who lives in Kent.

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Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago

I went to a BCP Holy Communion service in an 11C chapel this morning and came away lighter and happier than I went in.

I can’t help thinking if the church stuck to the Prayer Book, the KJV and the Hymnal and stopped talking in the media and online about secular issues, people would be attracted to its beauty, majesty, truth, holiness and goodness.

The Word doesn’t need “contextualising” or modernising and nothing is less likely to kill the sacred than corporate wokespeak about global warming or women’s football tournaments.

I saw the fantastic Iain McGilchrist making the point recently that all churches need to do is radiate holiness and people will seek it out as a sanctuary in this mad world. I whole heartedly agree.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
Stephen Morris
Stephen Morris
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

This, a hundred times over.

Stephen Morris
Stephen Morris
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

This, a hundred times over.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago

I went to a BCP Holy Communion service in an 11C chapel this morning and came away lighter and happier than I went in.

I can’t help thinking if the church stuck to the Prayer Book, the KJV and the Hymnal and stopped talking in the media and online about secular issues, people would be attracted to its beauty, majesty, truth, holiness and goodness.

The Word doesn’t need “contextualising” or modernising and nothing is less likely to kill the sacred than corporate wokespeak about global warming or women’s football tournaments.

I saw the fantastic Iain McGilchrist making the point recently that all churches need to do is radiate holiness and people will seek it out as a sanctuary in this mad world. I whole heartedly agree.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
11 months ago

Writing as a Vicar in the Church of England, I find that, sadly, there is far too much truth in this article.

William Warren
William Warren
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Yes- likewise. The gap between the bishops and the grassroots is becoming cavernous. I sometimes wonder if we actually believe the same faith

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
11 months ago
Reply to  William Warren

I’m not sure they do. I left after general synod last Autumn when it became clear that Stonewall had taken over the institution. Given what’s happened since then, I’m so glad I did. I now live with my lectionary and prayer.
My partner is a tenor Lay Clerk – sadly he cannot escape at the moment, but he is astonished by some of the choices made in his cathedral.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
11 months ago
Reply to  William Warren

I’m not sure they do. I left after general synod last Autumn when it became clear that Stonewall had taken over the institution. Given what’s happened since then, I’m so glad I did. I now live with my lectionary and prayer.
My partner is a tenor Lay Clerk – sadly he cannot escape at the moment, but he is astonished by some of the choices made in his cathedral.

William Warren
William Warren
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Yes- likewise. The gap between the bishops and the grassroots is becoming cavernous. I sometimes wonder if we actually believe the same faith

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
11 months ago

Writing as a Vicar in the Church of England, I find that, sadly, there is far too much truth in this article.

N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago

The old trope: The Church of England is the Tory party at prayer does need to be updated. It would be more true to say that the Church of England is now the Liberal Left pretending to pray. Now, as Mr Gooch says: correct political positions are the key to appearing Good.
As I am not a practicing Christian it may be none of my business but I find the decreasing respect for the concept of a sacred space within churches and cathedrals to be quite disturbing. For example, on a recent visit to Salisbury Cathedral I noticed that people were allowed to wander around inside that sacred space with their pet dogs. What next – will they have ‘dog poo’ bins inside the churches?
In Spain and Italy where they take Christianity more seriously there are bans on wandering into churches wearing casual beach holiday clothing (shorts etc). Not so in England, where being informal is almost a religion in itself.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Just because you aren’t a practicing Christian doesn’t mean the CofE is none of your business. Assuming you are British it is pivotal to your country. The constitution runs: God -> King -> Ministers, Commons, Peers, Bishops and Judges. If the established church loses all dignity and confidence, so does the country. And it is in a bad state (much like the Monarchy, the Commons, the Lords and the Judiciary). National restoration requires all these branches to rediscover their purpose and recommit themselves the the good of their own people – the extended family of the nation.

God can look after Himself but everyone under Him needs a lot of work.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Indeed, but if I, a non practicing Christian, am aware of the importance of a sacred space then why do the Church of England seem to lack such awareness? Perhaps the very idea of a sacred space is just too non-inclusive and sits uncomfortably with our all-pervasive egalitarian ethic.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Partly because they employ the usual woke middle class graduates that is doing the same in the civil service, big business etc.
But also because the clerical top brass is from the evangelical wing of the church. They believe in spreading the gospel through preaching and that requires you to “be part of the debate”. I think we would be better off if the CofE was run by bishops that were more interested in theological orthodoxy, solemn ritual and Anglican tradition which rose above topical debate.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

All valid points but I would like to ask an obvious question which, it seems to me, is given too little thought: why is this thing we call ‘woke’ so attractive to those who have benefitted from higher education?
The ‘woke’ after all, have shown that they wish to establish a restrictive, puritanical morality which should be anathema to the expansion of intelligence, knowledge and technological expertise we associate with higher learning.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Isn’t it just the latest way for posh kids to atone for the sin of being sent to a great schools, piano lessons and the pony club by their terrible suburban parents? They can still be cool and edgy if the say people can change sex, Britain should pay reparations to someone or other and they block roads in rush hour because of global warming.
So much, so 1970s.
The real trouble is that there is another class of 50 and 60 year olds in positions of power (or with plenty of money and time on their hands) who wish to ingratiate themselves with this movement. Their motivations are less clear. Some want to be “down with the kids”. Some wish to protect their positions from militant junior underlings. Some are hysterics who buy into the latest “emergency”. Some are would-be Puritans who have lost their religion. Some are superannuated Marxists who see this as the final dawn.
In any case, it is these older people that are allowing this monstrosity to grow and destroy our birthright. In the CofE I can’t help feeling that the parishes should withhold their share until the present incumbents in the top positions are replaced by Traditionalists.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Isn’t it just the latest way for posh kids to atone for the sin of being sent to a great schools, piano lessons and the pony club by their terrible suburban parents? They can still be cool and edgy if the say people can change sex, Britain should pay reparations to someone or other and they block roads in rush hour because of global warming.
So much, so 1970s.
The real trouble is that there is another class of 50 and 60 year olds in positions of power (or with plenty of money and time on their hands) who wish to ingratiate themselves with this movement. Their motivations are less clear. Some want to be “down with the kids”. Some wish to protect their positions from militant junior underlings. Some are hysterics who buy into the latest “emergency”. Some are would-be Puritans who have lost their religion. Some are superannuated Marxists who see this as the final dawn.
In any case, it is these older people that are allowing this monstrosity to grow and destroy our birthright. In the CofE I can’t help feeling that the parishes should withhold their share until the present incumbents in the top positions are replaced by Traditionalists.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

All valid points but I would like to ask an obvious question which, it seems to me, is given too little thought: why is this thing we call ‘woke’ so attractive to those who have benefitted from higher education?
The ‘woke’ after all, have shown that they wish to establish a restrictive, puritanical morality which should be anathema to the expansion of intelligence, knowledge and technological expertise we associate with higher learning.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Partly because they employ the usual woke middle class graduates that is doing the same in the civil service, big business etc.
But also because the clerical top brass is from the evangelical wing of the church. They believe in spreading the gospel through preaching and that requires you to “be part of the debate”. I think we would be better off if the CofE was run by bishops that were more interested in theological orthodoxy, solemn ritual and Anglican tradition which rose above topical debate.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Indeed, but if I, a non practicing Christian, am aware of the importance of a sacred space then why do the Church of England seem to lack such awareness? Perhaps the very idea of a sacred space is just too non-inclusive and sits uncomfortably with our all-pervasive egalitarian ethic.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Just because you aren’t a practicing Christian doesn’t mean the CofE is none of your business. Assuming you are British it is pivotal to your country. The constitution runs: God -> King -> Ministers, Commons, Peers, Bishops and Judges. If the established church loses all dignity and confidence, so does the country. And it is in a bad state (much like the Monarchy, the Commons, the Lords and the Judiciary). National restoration requires all these branches to rediscover their purpose and recommit themselves the the good of their own people – the extended family of the nation.

God can look after Himself but everyone under Him needs a lot of work.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago

The old trope: The Church of England is the Tory party at prayer does need to be updated. It would be more true to say that the Church of England is now the Liberal Left pretending to pray. Now, as Mr Gooch says: correct political positions are the key to appearing Good.
As I am not a practicing Christian it may be none of my business but I find the decreasing respect for the concept of a sacred space within churches and cathedrals to be quite disturbing. For example, on a recent visit to Salisbury Cathedral I noticed that people were allowed to wander around inside that sacred space with their pet dogs. What next – will they have ‘dog poo’ bins inside the churches?
In Spain and Italy where they take Christianity more seriously there are bans on wandering into churches wearing casual beach holiday clothing (shorts etc). Not so in England, where being informal is almost a religion in itself.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
11 months ago

Where were that churches during Covid?

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

They were made to close in the first lockdown, they could open in the 2nd if they had a cleaning roster and so on. I volunteered for that in the local Catholic church even tho I’m not one anymore.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

They were made to close in the first lockdown, they could open in the 2nd if they had a cleaning roster and so on. I volunteered for that in the local Catholic church even tho I’m not one anymore.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
11 months ago

Where were that churches during Covid?

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
11 months ago

Because although ‘Jesus Saves’, Lauren James takes the rebound and slots it past the keeper
.

Or something?

Last edited 11 months ago by Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
11 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Oh…. or not.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

The Lionesses were subject to the Spanish Inquisition, and recanted.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The revenge of TomĂĄs de Torquemada perhaps?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago

One certainly wouldn’t want him as a referee!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago

One certainly wouldn’t want him as a referee!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The revenge of TomĂĄs de Torquemada perhaps?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

The Lionesses were subject to the Spanish Inquisition, and recanted.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
11 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Oh…. or not.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
11 months ago

Because although ‘Jesus Saves’, Lauren James takes the rebound and slots it past the keeper
.

Or something?

Last edited 11 months ago by Paddy Taylor
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago

The Church of England has become so very twee, hasn’t it?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

They’re just desperate to get people through the doors. Even all those of my grandparents age cohort that I know (who’d be around the 100 year mark) never went to church, it’s always something that’s just existed in the background for weddings and funerals

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

They’re just desperate to get people through the doors. Even all those of my grandparents age cohort that I know (who’d be around the 100 year mark) never went to church, it’s always something that’s just existed in the background for weddings and funerals

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago

The Church of England has become so very twee, hasn’t it?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
11 months ago

The only religion that counts these days is the religion of racial and gender equity.
Though Meghan Rapinoe is missing from this final to perform transubstatiation of the Queer soul on her grassy altar…

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
11 months ago

The only religion that counts these days is the religion of racial and gender equity.
Though Meghan Rapinoe is missing from this final to perform transubstatiation of the Queer soul on her grassy altar…

Doug Bodde
Doug Bodde
11 months ago

Sayers well noted this 75 years ago, (Letters to a Diminished Church). That the Church’s exhilarating doctrine had been domesticated into a play thing. Whether on accident or intentionally, it’s surely a diminished thing.

Doug Bodde
Doug Bodde
11 months ago

Sayers well noted this 75 years ago, (Letters to a Diminished Church). That the Church’s exhilarating doctrine had been domesticated into a play thing. Whether on accident or intentionally, it’s surely a diminished thing.

AC Harper
AC Harper
11 months ago

There’s an argument that life in the Western world has become very transactional. People marry easily but divorce quickly when the ‘marriage deal’ is disappointed. People vote easily but quickly lose interest when the election deal is disappointed. People are enthusiastic about some TV series but soon become disappointed by later episodes/series.
Enter the Church which can no longer push the idea of life after death for the good people and eternal damnation for the bad people. The ‘deal’ is disappointing and that is why people are drifting away.

Arthur G
Arthur G
11 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

A Christian Church that ceases to preach Heaven, Hell, and salvation through Jesus Christ, has ceased to be Christian, or a Church. It serves no purpose.

Peter B
Peter B
11 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I want to agree with you about “no purpose” – but it does serve a purpose. Like all beauracracies, it ultimately serves itself.
But you’re right – the Church and Christianity are supposed to be about enduring, eternal truths. And yet they apparently choose to prioritise watching a football match – how much more ephemeral can you get ?

James S.
James S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

This x 1000

Peter B
Peter B
11 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I want to agree with you about “no purpose” – but it does serve a purpose. Like all beauracracies, it ultimately serves itself.
But you’re right – the Church and Christianity are supposed to be about enduring, eternal truths. And yet they apparently choose to prioritise watching a football match – how much more ephemeral can you get ?

James S.
James S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

This x 1000

Arthur G
Arthur G
11 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

A Christian Church that ceases to preach Heaven, Hell, and salvation through Jesus Christ, has ceased to be Christian, or a Church. It serves no purpose.

AC Harper
AC Harper
11 months ago

There’s an argument that life in the Western world has become very transactional. People marry easily but divorce quickly when the ‘marriage deal’ is disappointed. People vote easily but quickly lose interest when the election deal is disappointed. People are enthusiastic about some TV series but soon become disappointed by later episodes/series.
Enter the Church which can no longer push the idea of life after death for the good people and eternal damnation for the bad people. The ‘deal’ is disappointing and that is why people are drifting away.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
11 months ago

By hitching their wagon to the progressive train, they are doing nothing but being as Christian as possible.

*Tom Holland has entered the chat*

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

O no!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

O no!

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
11 months ago

By hitching their wagon to the progressive train, they are doing nothing but being as Christian as possible.

*Tom Holland has entered the chat*

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
11 months ago
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
11 months ago
James S.
James S.
11 months ago

Christianity-and-water, as C. S. Lewis called it.

James S.
James S.
11 months ago

Christianity-and-water, as C. S. Lewis called it.

DANIEL Tan
DANIEL Tan
11 months ago

Such a good calling out! Well done.

DANIEL Tan
DANIEL Tan
11 months ago

Such a good calling out! Well done.