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Jesus cross

For most people in England, ‘the Church’ is the Church of England. It is still the only church which covers most of the country, and in many villages, to this day, it is at the centre of village life in so far as events such as the summer fete are concerned. So, by the time this goes up, I shall be making enemies for life by judging the cake-making contest (we have, in a very Anglican compromise, managed to contrive a situation in which there are many types of winner), whilst my fiance will be grilling the burgers and barbecuing all types of meat (what is this man and meat and fire thing? Clearly very primeval). The Church fete, as it is known by all and sundry, goes back to a time when the church really was the central point of village life: it was where people were married, babies baptised and people buried, and usually where the village school was situated. The State has taken on many of these things, and in some ways, and in some places, the church is really almost a survival of a bygone era. As the State has taken on all the roles just mentioned (and increased taxes to pay for same), it has pushed the church out of the way; whether, in this age of greater austerity and cuts in public services, it will be able to continue to do so, is an interesting subject for conjecture.

Already, with the advent of foodbanks, we have seen the Church make a come-back. The State is quite unable to manage to provide emergency aid for people whom its bureaucratic procedures cannot deal with swiftly enough to ensure that they have enough to eat between becoming unemployed and receiving benefits. The vast clientage who have lived on State benefits forever know how to use the system, those newly unemployed don’t, and it is so complex and slow that people can risk going hungry. So here, as in so many other places, the churches have worked together to provide foodbanks, where individuals can come and get help; here we also provide links to other sources of advice. None of this requires anyone to go near a church for religious purposes, but it reminds us all of what St James says, which is that true religion is feeding the widows and the orphans. Goodness knows, if you look around you, there is more than enough of that to be done, and as I said to my fiance the other evening, it is all very well arguing abstruse points of theology, but we do risk missing this central message of Jesus – which is that when you feed the hunger and clothe the naked, you are doing these things to Him, as well as for Him.

The early Christians were famous for the way they took care of each other; in a society which preached and practised devil take the hindmost, Christians stood out for their care for those on the margins of society. As the tide of State influence recedes – and I do not see it coming back – the churches are being offered a chance to practice what they preach. The more of that we do, the more people will wonder what it is which makes this group of people act in a way which others won’t. That is our best witness, and I hope we shall seize it. Now, for those cakes …