Why I’ve lost faith in the Church and this Archbishop – Sarah Todd

WHERE has the Church been throughout the coronavirus pandemic and where is it now as we enter the last few weeks before Christmas?

Justin Welby is preparing to take a three month sabbatical as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Justin Welby is preparing to take a three month sabbatical as Archbishop of Canterbury.

There will be pockets of the country where the local clergy have been a force for good; checking up on parishioners and organising food deliveries and such like.

But my impression – rightly or wrongly – is that back in the days before the first lockdown many dog collars were taken off and church doors locked. The organisation retreated into its ivory towers rather than stepping up to the plate.

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Now news that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is to take a three-month sabbatical has put the tin hat on this correspondent’s feelings towards the church.

Sarah Todd has praised the charisma of Dr John Sentamu, the former Archbishop of York.

In the real world, what boss of a multinational organisation would take time off in the middle of a pandemic? Have Sir James Dyson or Sir Richard Branson turned tail and announced to their staff that they need time for reflection?

It smacks of self-indulgence and a disconnection with the real world.

There is no point pretending to be a devout church-goer. Easter, Harvest Festival and Christmas are the services that have traditionally got this writer through the door.

Increasingly, Harvest Festival has become removed from the hearty singing of We plough the fields and scatter that punctuated my childhood.

A church parishioner watches a laptop inside Liverpool Parish Church (Our Lady and St Nicholas) in Liverpool, during the Church of England's first virtual Sunday service given by the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year.

Back then village hall trestle tables groaned under splendid suppers, followed by lively produce auctions and so much connection with rural life.

Now there seems to be hymns you haven’t heard of, no shout out for farmers and a few tins of off-date peaches.

When one of my late grandmothers died, aged 100, why hadn’t a vicar been to see her? There was no coronavirus pandemic then. She wasn’t a three-times-a-year church-goer like her granddaughter.

She was a proper Christian. Every Sunday sat in the pews and then volunteering and contributing in any which way she could.

It would be no exaggeration to say that a good part of her life revolved around her involvement with the church.

But when she died, in a care home, did the church repay the favour? No, they were nowhere to be seen.

There was a moment, during the first lockdown, when it seemed almost likely for there to be resurgence in religion.

Many families went back to basics. They started to appreciate the 
simpler things in life – friends, family and food.

Everyone seemed to be baking like my gran in her church fete heyday and reconnecting with their local community; simple things like saying hello to neighbours they had never spoken to before.

The clapping for carers had something of the congregation about it.

But, in my experience – others may well have viewed thing differently – the church didn’t seize the moment. It stayed at an awkward social distance.

Like so many things in our modern world, personality seems to be missing within the church. Many of us will remember vicars from our youth.

Round and jolly, skinny and dour, flirty with the old ladies – have modern recruitment policies meant that those larger-than-life characters never get to stand in front of the pulpit?

Is the modern church made up of those who tow a more tepid line?

When we became engaged, the vicar suggested a meal out at the local Italian before he opened his diary and found a date.

He got a lift home from the wedding in the back of my cousin’s car. He absolutely and utterly made the day and presided at christenings that came along with the same lust for life.

If he hadn’t retired there is no doubt that our children would have been confirmed. He went the extra mile – into his own time – to run confirmation classes.

Whenever enquiries have been made since, his retirement there is a shrug of the shoulders and excuses about not enough numbers to make classes ‘worthwhile’.

Our children are now 17 and nearly 20. The moment has gone. There is a part of me that hopes they will go through life believing there is ‘something’ bigger than them and that they will look at the conspicuous consumerism of the modern world and warm to a more altruistic way of life. But if they do it’s no thanks to the church.

Well, apart from the couple of years our son spent at a church primary school. Back then there was a proper full-time vicar in the district.

He was a real inspiration. He’d been in the RAF and was a veteran of the Falklands and Gulf wars. He remembered the children’s names and took such an interest in what they had been up to.

A really important male role model to our lad in a primary school sector that is so often heavy on the female influence.

Who is encouraging such unsung heroes to join the church’s ranks nowadays? Where are the charismatic individuals, like our last Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu?

We’ve spent a lot of this year wishing for life to get back to normal. Normal would be nice. But should we not be striving for something more...

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.

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