Peter Oborne's article on the apparent resurgence of some churches in the UK (despite other reports this week on an apparent decline in Christianity amongst the general population). The comments of James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, towards the end of the article particularly struck a chord:
“I’m firmly of the view there’s a spiritual impulse in everybody. But this impulse is episodic. For instance at times of bereavement or trouble, people open up and become more sensitive to the Christian faith. I believe the same happens with society. When the material world gets knocked people are forced to think again and that’s when Christianity does have something important to say. People are aware there’s a big shift in society coming along, even though they might not understand it. So I’m not surprised that the ground is now more fertile for the spread of the Christian message.”
And it seems he is putting his time & money (or the Anglican Church's at least) where his mouth is with the re-opening of St James in the City, which interestingly enough lies in the shadow of Liverpool's grandiose, faux-ancient Anglican cathdral, but is being refounded on the 'new' missional way of 'doing church'.
As a side note, during my time in Liverpool I used to go jogging past St James', which is situated just up from the River Mersey, and has stood abandoned seemingly for a long time. An overriding memory of the place is the time I ran past late at night and a black ghost-like plastic bag blew out of the gates and across my path, which after recovering from a stumble and a quick check to make sure nobody had seen me embarrass myself, helped increase my stride!
I have experienced, as a drop-in visitor, this kind of Anglican 'restart' church first-hand and I think it, at least in part, counters the argument - put forward in some 'Post-Christian' Unitarian circles - that Christianity is somehow past it, that something else needs embracing to be 'popular' (a bizarre argument really, given we are ultimately talking about deeply rooted faith and traditions which cannot simply be deconstructed / reconstructed in the same way you would with consumer products).
I have always hoped that avowedly liberal / radical Christian churches including that which I call my own, the Unitarian & Free Christian church, could remodel some of their congregations in a similar way with a view to revival. But to even begin that process you need the will and the means, which for a tiny, scattered and ageing denomination with a confused sense of self and limited human & financial resources, is not going to be easy. It may well be that other denominations, such as the Baptists, Quakers and United Reformed Church - in which there are tolerated and celebrated liberal / radical tendencies (increasingly glued together by the Progressive Christian network), move forward from where Martineau et al left off.