Brixton’s Bare Pews
Today I was reminded by happenstance that I wanted to read something from Michael Ramsey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961-1974, and who I’ve heard was a great churchman. I seem to recall that my wife, who is a devout reader of the novelist Susan Howatch, once told me that Abp Ramsey was a sort of spiritual father to Howatch. Or perhaps I read that somewhere. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m curious to know more about him.
Not long after I went to Amazon.com looking for Ramsey titles, a friend sent me this gloomy bit from The Economist‘s columnist Bagehot, examining the calamitous state of Anglicanism in its mother country. The columnist began in the pews at St. Matthew’s, in London’s Brixton quarter, where a grand total of 65 souls came to worship on a Sunday in Advent, 2012. Excerpt:
The church is a south London landmark, a vast neo-classical monument with room for 1,800 worshippers, built in 1822 to commemorate the victory at Waterloo. Since the mid-1970s, however, when plunging congregations made it unaffordable, the church has operated from a small portion of the building. Some of the rest was leased out as a nightclub, “Mass”, which became well-known for hosting bondage parties. “The walls aren’t insulated so there was a lot of noise,” recalls one parishioner. Now the nightclub has closed; some of the building is being turned into a pub.
It is unclear who were more representative of British society, the worshippers in England’s established church or the sado-masochists next-door. Around 3% of English people attend an Anglican service at least once a month. Perhaps more significantly, according to the 2011 census, only 59% call themselves Christian, representing a drop of 13 points in a decade. By comparison, two in three young women, according to a poll by More! magazine, claim to have experimented with bondage or spanking. The concept of Christendom, a Christian realm that has endured since the time of Constantine the Great, is dying in Britain. In the most godless continent, it is one of the most secular countries.
This really is the end, isn’t it? It’s crushingly sad to me. Two summers ago, I attended Evensong at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, and was so grateful for what Anglican Christianity has given to the church universal. Sigh…
UPDATE: My Anglican colleague Alan Jacobs gives historical evidence for hope among the Anglicans.