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Lessons from C20 secular views of the church

In the last week or so I have been reading a couple of books on Christianity in Britain in the C20: Grace Davie’s Religion in Britain since 1945 and Callum G Brown’s The Death of Christian Britain.  If you want to feel insignificant these are a great read!  Seriously though, I found them both interesting, informative and challenging. 
Despite acknowledging that Anglicans account for only about a third of practising Christians and that there are significant numbers of ‘other faith’ groups, Davie’s work (which aims to be sociology rather than only history) seems to me to be predicated on the assumption that religion = Anglican.  We Bappys don’t qualify for a mention other than as part of the ‘free churches’ so our insignificance to the wider world is quite clear!  It is an interesting read, if only because it is written from outside the narrow confines of the world of church and theology and reminds us of our minority status in Britain- or more specifically England – today.
Brown is a historian using oral history, fiction, popular magazines and denominational publications as primary sources.  He quotes some New Connexion General Baptist sources in his discourse on feminisation of piety but the Particulars don’t warrant more than a passing reference.  
Brown’s work made intriguing reading, challenging many assumptions about secularisation and even the worldviews of historians reflecting back on religious topics.  On the one hand there is the portrayal in the ‘evangelical narrative’ fiction of the 19th and early 20th century of women as paragons of virtue, through whose forbearance and piety the fallen man comes to realise his need of salvation and – even if on his deathbed – makes a confession of faith.  On the other hand is the reality of the women who cannot make it to morning services because, with the demise of servants, they have to cook dinner; those who bring their children to Sunday School and then stop attending once they have grown up; the link between church-going and respectability; the views of men who see church as women’s business or are driven away to fulfil the roles they are portrayed as having.  I was fascinated by this account, which was so very different from the views of feminist theologians I have heard/read.  Whilst there are undoubtedly links between the two perspectives, they seem to have rather different views of the role of women in the church, and possibly different implications for grass roots working.
Maybe more alarming than amusing is the fact that this culture, ostensibly dying by the 1950’s is still very much alive in this little backwater.  I do have women who wouldn’t come to morning worship because they have to peel carrots and a few who have returned in their (much) later years having previously opted out at marriage or when their children left home.  The sense that religion is for women is also evident.  The real challenge seems to be heeding the consequences of what happened in the early C20 elsewhere and allowing it to inform what happens here a century later.

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