I attended a meeting for hospital chaplaincy volunteers the other day. Inside the small community hospital I asked for directions to the chapel. To my surprise it no longer exists, or rather it has been renamed. All hospital chapels in this health trust are now called, ‘The Sanctuary.’ This is to avoid any direct association with Christianity.
Inside the ‘Sanctuary,’ a name abolished from churches by James I in 1623, the stained glass windows remained, showing Noah sending a dove out from the Ark. I was surprised that the iconoclasts and secularists now inside the NHS had not smashed them. There was even a cross standing on a table. The small room looked like a traditional place of worship and prayer, but with the full agreement of the C of E the Christian presence in hospitals is gradually being phased out.
‘We aim to be multicultural,’ the head chaplain explained, so the word, ‘chapel,’ referring to a Christian place is as archaic now as the word, ‘Missionary,’ which he also said is never used anymore.
The millions of Muslims now fleeing the Islamic world for the Christian West will never see any Christian images or language. Living in the Asian/middle-eastern family cocoon it might even be possible for them to believe that the UK is already an Islamic state. The C of E has decided that this is the correct approach; in the interests of its liberal political credo it has chosen invisibility.
This came home to me with force recently when I heard that the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) a three-hundred-year-old Anglican Mission founded in 1701, once supported by endless collections from Anglican schools, had changed its name to the ‘inclusive’ and meaningless, ‘US.’
‘There is no ‘them’ only ‘Us,’ explained Canon Linda Ali, Chairman of US Trustees. Us traditional Christians might suspect that they no longer feel the Gospel is important.
‘Our work in partnership with the churches of the Anglican Communion is for the benefit of the whole community, regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, age or faith. No-one is excluded.’
Missionaries never did exclude anyone, of course, but US now concentrates on economic matters, fighting poverty is their project, not changing beliefs. As a committed non-missionary Ms Ali also felt that the word ‘propagation’ was too difficult for a modern audience.
A sad capitulation for us pedants who love the English language, but then I still miss hearing the grand terms; ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Spinster of this parish’ on Sunday mornings. I also regret the demise of those almost comically dramatic lines: ‘Anyone who knows just cause or impediment why these may not severally be joined in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it.’
The pause following that momentous ‘Ye’ once created a wonderful moment of suspense, bringing to mind Jane Eyre’s doomed first attempt at marriage to Mr. Rochester. Well all that historical, literary stuff has been kicked to the side aisles, in case the modern congregant feels alienated.
The C of E has fully embraced the vernacular in the 21stcentury, recently junking the traditional Christening service because it mentioned Sin and the Devil. They try desperately to accommodate the modern age, yet it is hard to see any sign of a new audience appearing or the use of banal language causing a mass rush back to the pews, or rather the plastic chairs.
The English public cannot be blamed for staying away for they no longer know what they are getting. I recently took part in a discussion about why Celtic culture has become an increasingly popular brand. The Celts are not a genetically identifiable group, they lived in tiny dispersed communities, without a written language, yet their image, their intricate art and indecipherable signs captivate millions of modern people. It’s probable that more modern people identify with the mythical Celts than they do with the Church of England. While one thrives on a mysterious ancient identity the C of E tears down its past, engaging in constant ruthless iconoclasm. In the interest of gaining a fatuous modernity it has abandoned its identity.
Along with this destructive shedding has come an obsession with sexual politics and gender, leaving little time to engage with issues which might interest people. I have noticed the absence of a C of E presence in social care, one of the pressing concerns of our day, involving many elderly people who have been life-long church goers. When I became a hospital visitor in London in 2012 I was amazed at the absence of any C of E employee on the wards. There was no sign of the national church. Those devotional cards, crosses, and notices about services had vanished. Even at Easter they provided nothing. When I asked about this I was told that demographically there were not enough Anglicans to make it worthwhile. The Catholics and Muslims went to their own people regardless of numbers.
‘We have to be here for everyone,’ said the blithe multicultural Anglican vicar. He resigned not long after, worn out by being there for everyone over four sites. Before I left in 2014 I was the only Anglican there, outnumbered by Baptists, Pentecostalists and Roman Catholics who gave constant support to their own kind.
When I entered the community hospital unit recently, I asked about Anglican services for the mainly elderly people there. Communion, and later ‘the sacrament of the sick,’ (no longer called the, ‘Last Rites,’ as that sounds too gloomy) had been provided to one dying man. But I was told, this involved the danger of, ‘over privileging one patient.’
To remain in the Church of England now, unless you are concerned about gay rights and transgendering, is to be lost in a fug of ideology and daft ideas, Christian ethics replaced by notions from the hard Left. This radical, self-destructive impulse reminds me of attitudes which wrecked our state education system in recent years. The church also demonstrates a passion for destroying English culture and traditions, anything that reaches back to our national past, which many liberals unfathomably find so shameful. As the actual point of the church being there at all has got lost, the average church goer, like thousands of our school kids, is playing truant and never intends to return.