The Devil Must be Laughing at the Church of England


They say the Devil has all the best tunes and verily he has had many such to hum as the Church of England loses its moorings in the seas of the pandemic and wokery. It is a terrifying sight and sound.

To begin at the beginning. Way back in the run up to Easter 2020 the Lambeth Palace hierarchy ordered their clergy to shut all churches immediately, not only to their congregations and visitors but also to the priests themselves. The impact of Covid19 was deemed such that these places of worship were to be left to the rats, mice and spiders. In the Spectator the incoming Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterill, took to print to say how we should relish this modern day equivalent of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness and thus church lockdowns should be seen as a jolly good spiritual development. The Spectator was kind enough to include in their ensuing letters page the following riposte from your indignant scribe:

“With respect to The Archbishop of York  (“Cross purpose” – 4th April) the last time our country faced a crisis on this scale was the second world war and then our churches were places of enormous spiritual comfort and solace to communities but just at our hour of need they remain firmly shut. It really should not be beyond the wit of man to have them re-opened. Of course the government would agree to allowing 10 or so people into a church at any one time for a limited daily period, especially if they were required to wear face masks and there was a volunteer on the door with sanitiser at the ready. The Queen has declared that the Britons of this generation are as strong as any. As Head of the Church of England I wonder if she has noticed that the Anglican hierarchy’s acquiescence to locked church buildings is a sign of weakness?”

Many others took to print and the airwaves to voice similar concern but the Church of England remained resolute in its mental stasis. Indeed the only other developments of note in 2020 from the two Archbishops were York advertised for a £90,000 pa chief of Staff and Canterbury announced he would be taking a 3 month 2021 Summer sabbatical at his French country home for “reflection, prayer and spiritual renewal”.  As well he might and during which time he can ask himself what on earth (sic) was he thinking of when he prevented the use of his buildings to alleviate the suffering and mental anguish of all those who would ordinarily seek solace there, for the first time since 1208 AD?

Just after Easter 2021, Welby did finally admit that Cof E’s stance in the first lockdown was totally wrong. He said:

 “I got quite a few things wrong at the beginning and I learnt quite quickly. I didn’t push hard enough to keep churches available for at least individual prayer in the first lockdown. We also said clergy couldn’t go in, and personally I feel I made a mistake with that.I can make all kinds of excuses. I still think I was too risk-averse.”

Too late,the damage was already done. My how the Devil must have laughed but he hasn’t finished with the hapless Church of England yet. For along comes the Reverend David Keighley who, in a report to Welby, calls for 75% of his churches, some 12,000, to be shut permanently as at best “they are museums gathering dust”. Keighley goes onto suggest that they can be demolished and the land thereon can be turned into social housing. Another good tune and given that most of these places of worship have been knocked for six by the financial consequences of the pandemic no doubt a tempting one for Lambeth Palace to listen to.

And so to last week’s “development”. Becky Clark, the C of E’s Director of Churches and Cathedrals is urging the country’s 12,500 parishes and 42 cathedrals to address, search out, assess and remove offensive artefacts of ‘contested heritage’.  In other words this is an instruction from HQ to examine all statuary, plaques, etc in these places of worship for signs of connections to slavery, colonialism, racism etc, remove them and possibly replace with new statuary. So much for Christian forgiveness. And what is the hierarchy smoking? It is beginning to look as if Lambeth Palace is on some kind of  out-of-this- world 1960s acid trip…

“Hey you dudes in the parishes, you know those freaky old statues and memorials with their connections to things that suck. Why don’t you put up cool 21st century statues and whatever next to them to counter bad karma?”

Why of course the clergy and their parishioners have the time and the funds to investigate and castigate. Mind you here in our church of St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, I can see how we can get our revenge (whoops, how unchristian-like). For years we have been trying to get rid of a Victorian chancel screen in order to open up the church to more communal worship and use for greater secular activities. This was fought tooth and nail by the Victorian Society (the church is essentially 12th C and Grade 1 listed) and aided and abetted by the Diocesan Authority. We have yet to remove it. But good news for Becky Clark and for us! The screen was installed by Lord Hardinge in 1897, who was Viceroy of India and thus deep in the doggy do-doo of our colonial past. Pass me the chainsaw.

For the last fifteen months the upper echelons of the Church of England have hardly put a foot right. Indeed they are fast becoming a laughing stock. The Devil must be delighted. As the Archbishop of Canterbury retreats to his French residence he should reflect on whether there will be much left to preside over on his return to Lambeth Palace.

The City Grump has spent some 40 years in the City of London. He started as a stockbroker’s analyst but after some years he decided he was too grumpy to continue with the sell side of things so he moved to the buy side and became a fund manager for the next 20 years, selling his own business in the 1990s. Post the millennium, he found himself in turn chairing a stockbroker, a financial PR company, and an Exchange. He still keeps his hand in, chairing a brace of VCTs and investing personally in startups. The City Grump’s publications are available here.