Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Holy Bankrollers; Bankers Are a Godless Community, According to a Report out This Week. So Why Are City Types Flocking to Sign Up to One Particular Strain of Evangelical Christianity, Asks Rosamund Urwin

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Holy Bankrollers; Bankers Are a Godless Community, According to a Report out This Week. So Why Are City Types Flocking to Sign Up to One Particular Strain of Evangelical Christianity, Asks Rosamund Urwin

Article excerpt

Byline: Rosamund Urwin

THE Christian banker -- who can marry God and Mammon -- may seem like an oxymoron now. But Ken Costa, the 62-year-old City grandee enlisted by St Paul's to play mediator between banking and its critics, is an evangelist who reads the Bible every morning -- after the FT, of course. If anyone can preach morality to the City, it is this righteous rainmaker.

Costa, who was chairman of investment bank Lazard until earlier this year and spent more than three decades at UBS, is the top bankroller and chairman of Alpha International, the interdenominational programme that introduces non-believers to Christianity.

The ultimate God Squad has been a big success in the City, converting scores of financiers to the Christian faith. But, as research from the St Paul's Institute showed earlier this week, the bonus-obsessed Square Mile is still a "less pro-God community" than society at large. And despite the use of money being the number one moral issue in the Bible, more than threequarters of bankers do not think the City should listen more to the guidance of the Church. And yet Alpha's popularity is undeniable. Despite emptying pews elsewhere, the Holy Trinity Brompton in Knightsbridge and its fellow Alpha course churches preach to bursting congregations each week.

Since Nicky Gumbel took over the programme two decades ago -- and chose to focus its attention on encouraging non-Christians to explore the faith -- the movement has mushroomed, with more than 16 million people attending its courses worldwide. A course lasts 10 weeks and includes a day or weekend away but Alpha also runs a swifter, lunchtime version -- Alpha in the Workplace -- in both offices and venues around the City.

Jeremy Crossley, the rector of St Margaret Lothbury, which is the centre of the Alpha course in the City, says: "Alpha appeals because it is a way of responding to people's enquiries and musings about the meaning of life." But it is not without its critics, some of whom have accused the programme of "brainwashing" and being almost cult-like. Even fellow Christians call it "happy-clappy", say it places too little emphasis on the gospel, or express discomfort at its practice of speaking in tongues (members chant in a language "from heaven"). "Speaking in tongues is one of the gifts of the spirit," says Crossley. "It is one small aspect of the course and more a feature of newspaper articles about Alpha than a feature of Alpha courses. But I speak in tongues, lots of people I know speak in tongues."

Their reservations aside, Alpha has been such a success that it has sparked a boom in evangelical organisations focused on the City, including an annual City Prayer Breakfast (which is next Wednesday) and Christianity Explored, which runs London's only floating church at Canary Wharf, and which has a programme much like Alpha, minus the tongues, inviting non-Christians for a meal and discussion.

St Peter's Barge is itself testament to God-fearing City folk, who paid for it and continue to fund it through donations.

Its senior pastor, Marcus Nodder, believes the financial crisis has had a positive effect alongside all the negatives, encouraging City workers to re-evaluate their lives: "Spiritual needs are always there -- whether you are rich or poor -- but when crises happen, you become more aware of your needs and realise that some of the things we have been relying on are not lasting."

Jeremy Marshall, a trustee of Christianity Explored and the chief executive of the private bank C Hoare & Co, adds that the recession has made banking believers more open about their faith: "When everything is going well, it is not so obvious that there needs to be a solution to the world's problems. When things are not, people are more open to talking about it."

But while senior figures such as Costa, HSBC's Stephen Green and hedge fund star Paul Marshall have all discussed their faith, Jeremy Marshall (no relation) believes it is harder for the young: "They constantly fear they'll be fired so the last thing they want to do is stick their head above the parapet and say, 'I am a Christian'. …

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