A STATIONARY CHURCH AND A MOVING PEOPLE
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
[Correspondents are requested to keep their letters as brief as is reasonably possible. The most suitable length is that of one of our "News of the Week" paragraphs. Signed letters are given a preference over those bearing a pseudonym.—Ed. THE SPECTATOR.] [To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]
SIR,—The article which you publish with the above arresting title needs some drastic criticism. The writer asserts that never before has the mass of the population been so "on the move "—with its "belongings packed in furniture vans" and the inhabitants of the distressed areas streaming south- wards. This is pure fantasy—the trouble is to move the inhabitants of the distressed areas at all. The writer quotes the "experience of the clergy (this year) of an industrial parish in a " distressed area in the north "—who in four months visited every house in the parish, and who found that at ihe -end of the four months "the lists were all wrong" and that
not a single street was inhabited by quite the same set of people." If there were "clergy," the parish must have numbered some thousands, few town parishes of under 5,000 have a curate. That must have been an extraordinary parish ! How did these distressed people get the money with which to move south ? I am single-handed in a parish in this north, in a city very depressed through the collapse of -shipping, of about 6,000 people, mainly working-class. I have, as usual, made a card-index of every house in the parish, my list has been in existence for nearly five years, and I do not find the removals greater than before the War—I should say much less.
Am I really to believe that in this parish so described by the writer of your article "most have gone south to towns like Luton and Chelmsford " ? From one parish ? In four months ? And what happened to the houses thus emptied in this northern distressed parish ? Did the houses remain empty ? Or did new people flock in ? If they did, why should they find that the parish clergy had also migrated ? Were the souls of the emigrants of more value than those of the immigrants ? If the population be really thus" on the move" is it not a matter of thankfulness that the Church is stationary, and still there to shepherd the newcomers ? But, with all respect, I find this story quite incredible, like so many of the ecclesiastical propagandist stories of today, when Press and Publicity are trying to frighten the lives out of us.
The writer says that the rule of the Church is to "provide a church and a priest for every soul in the country." I know of no such "rule "—it is true that the claim is sometimes made that such is the duty of the Church of England, but only by people out of touch with reality. Am I responsible for my Roman Catholic parishioners ? Would they admit my ministry ? And my Nonconformist parishioners—am I responsible for them ? True, they almost always tell me that they are "so broadminded" that they will welcome my visits, but why should they have two parsons ministering to them while my Church parishioners can only have one ? If 100,000 people are moved from the slums to Council houses probably not more than 50,000 are even nominally Church.
It is a bold statement that "there will be no end within foreseeable time to mass migration "—the back of the problem is already broken. And why should "the Church" provide brand new churches, parish halls and vicarages for these areas ? Does not every experienced parish priest know full well that the one certain way in which to kill a parish is to provide it with all it needs free of cost ? What is wrong with the old method of providing a Mission priest with an iron church and an iron room ? With care, these will last for 50 years— the church would hold 300 and have a family feeling— the new permanent church will hold 500 to 600 and always be half empty, to the depression of clergy and people. Gradually, as the new parish settles down, the permanent church can be built by the people who will love that which they have created. This financial depression is not going to last for ever. To build a new church, parish hall and vicarage with borrowed money is iniquitous—it is unfair to the present and to the future.
The writer then suggests two "remedies "—the creation of a "general staff for the church" and the "destruction of the parson's freehold." A comprehensive programme indeed ! The increasing centralisation in the Church is already so great an evil that steps are being taken to stop it. It has evoked the worst elements in religious life, a materialistic conception of the Church's work ; often, the placing in key positions of self-advertising charlatans ; the adoration of statistics ; the publication of statements that may be dramatic but which are not true.
As to the parson's freehold, it produces some scandals, but none commensurable with the disasters that would ensue on its abolition. Who is to decide when a parson is to go ? The Bishop ? But he is too often dependent on hearsay for what he really knows of his diocese. A Commission of clergy and laity ? Then farewell to the entry into Holy Orders of any man of character and independent mind. No surer way of securing a ministry of sycophants could well be devised.
No! If the population is so unstable, so on the move, let every wellwisher of the old Church thank God that she at any rate is stable and even stationary. Stationary in thought she certainly is not, never was she more alert—her clergy are still the most learned in Christendom. The new arrivals in a parish who now don't go to church but who all did in their last parish are no new feature, they have existed to my knowledge from long before the War, and they are far out-numbered by the new arrivals who do come to the existing church and are glad to find it stationary.—Yours faithfully,