When I read the GS 1312 report on the responses to the proposed parish changes, I saw that I wasn’t the only one drawing a parallel between these proposals and the Beeching cuts. What stood out was that the report only featured part of the line of argument – that closing parish churches has a detrimental effect on community life – which made me wonder where the other lines of argument – that once it’s gone you can’t put it back, and how about solving a few underlying problems? – went.
I am not the only one to think that the C of E is doing managed decline rather than trying to find
out why it is declining and then doing something about it. A similar issue faced British Rail in
the 1950s and early 1960s in the face of private motoring and trading practices that negatively
impinged (and some still do) on rail transport. For example, the railways were obliged to take
any load, regardless of how small and unprofitable (eg a bunch of flowers) or how ridiculously
large (eg a power station transformer) all the while being legally obligated to publish their prices. Therefore, it was very easy for road hauliers to only take profitable loads and undercut railway prices. These two issues were not dealt with at the time and so valuable trade and profits were lost. This is not the full story, but that’s too long for this essay.
It’s not difficult to draw parallels here with lost *prophets* because underlying issues are not being dealt with. It is far easier to close churches than face up to deeper issues. While we may all disagree over what those deeper issues are, I think we can all agree that they are not being dealt with. Like Beeching, all that will be left will be the ‘successful’ bits: for the C of E ‘success’ is seemingly defined as covering costs as well as bottoms on seats, not the spiritual growth of individuals or pastoral care in the community, neither of which can be quantified on
a balance sheet.
Further, once the infrastructure has been removed, it’s difficult to impossible to put it back. Anybody that has travelled down the A17 knows how overloaded, and slow, this primary route A road actually is. It took long enough to bypass the many villages and towns and it used to be even worse! Given the bother getting the road to where it is now and the current ideological toxicity of road building, the chances of the A17 being very necessarily dual carriageway-ed are minimal. Yet the traffic flows increase and increase and increase.
Parts of the A17 are built on the old railway line. Now that there is a resurgence in interest in railways, it is impossible to rebuild the railway line and get the road traffic back on to rail. Had the line been ‘mothballed’ then it could have been re-opened (and those of us that dream wish for investment in double track !).
The parallel here with the C of E is easily seen. Once churches have been closed what then happens if there is a revival in church-going? I say a revival in church-going because interest
in religion and spirituality remains high, what’s dropped off is going to church, especially on Sunday mornings. As above, we’ll be here all day discussing *why* people don’t go to church but the central issue is that the C of E seemingly isn’t interested. Low numbers? Close it. Let’s not actually ask people, yes face-to-face ask people, why they’re not going and what can be done about it.
So, the CofE picked up on the social damage done by closing railways (churches), but hasn’t picked up on the underlying causes of why the railways (churches) weren’t being used, nor has it picked up on the fact that once the railway has been ripped out (church closed) then you can’t put it back again. I do not know if I wasn’t clear, or whether there is willful or accidental blindness on the part of the CofE hierarchy.