Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Like an Ecclesiastical Marks & Spencer, the Church Makes Half Its Income at the End of the Year

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Like an Ecclesiastical Marks & Spencer, the Church Makes Half Its Income at the End of the Year

Article excerpt

I have a dog in the middle of the city. So I tend to spend a lot of time on the bus with him, going to the park. It really is true that people speak to you more readily if you have a dog. Or, to be more accurate, if they're British they often speak to the actual dog, not the human attached. But if there's room, and I can be bothered, I do love sitting on the top deck: me and my spaniel Joey, our six legs clattering as we climb the stairs; pretending to be masters of all we survey when we're up there. When I'm not being accosted by American tourists ("please can I pet your dog? I miss mine at home ...") there is time to overhear the most intriguing conversations. One hands-free-phone exchange had me so entertained I forgot to get off at my stop.

"So I just had this insane idea. I'll go to a charity shop to get the wedding dress and just fuck it up. I mean slash the front and cut the train. I want to be naked."

Pause ...

"I want to be NAKED."

Pause ...

"Hmmmm. I'm not sure about black. Maybe red. It can't be white. Maybe red. I wanna be a Rihanna video. I'll keep you up dated. Yeah, love you too." I've taken many winter weddings in my time, where red and black seemed to be the dress code for the guests. But not often for the bride.

Mobile phone masts and jazz cafes

This winter, I've learned more concretely the meaning of the American import "Black Friday". Church finances are always a challenge, especially with custodianship of a Grade I listed building and staff monthly salaries. Priests have to be able to handle a balance sheet as well as a hymn sheet. And this year more than most I've felt that we're a bit like an ecclesiastical version of John Lewis or Marks & Spencer--making half our income in the last quarter of the year. Many of the budget lines are unpredictable and volatile; we can receive no donations at all for months, then have a week where, inexplicably, we are rescued at the last minute.

It's a nail-biting business. There is a move abroad in the Church of England to encourage churches to make money in more entrepreneurial ways: in villages by hosting post offices or mobile phone masts, in towns by running jazz cafes or spinning classes. In the past, churches built halls to accommodate such activity. Now it's often happening in the building itself. This begs the question: what can happen inside a church building? Is it sacred space and if so, what are the limits?

At Christmas time, the sacred and secular blur. The Christians took over many pagan symbols and ceremonies such as candles and evergreens to celebrate this principal Feast of the Incarnation, so I've never worried about moving from singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful" to listening to a performance by Ellie Goulding--as we did this month at our Christmas fundraising event for the Felix Project, a charity combating hunger and food waste. Hearts are stirred, charitable instincts are rekindled, and lives are made better for the poorest in our city by believers and non-believers alike. …

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