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Home > Culture and Society

The Church Of England: Going back to its roots

5 June 2004

This week the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, told The Times it would be a good idea for Prince Charles to marry Camilla Parker Bowles. And why not? They've got plenty in common: they're both posh, they both like killing things, and they're both a bit odd-looking. Just pity any children they might have.

The Church of England recently took another grudging step into the 20th Century when it revised its rules to allow some - note, some - divorcees to remarry in church. Just to add the usual note of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, the sticking point was whether the divorced person's ex-spouse was still alive. Until the change, Prince Charles could not have married Mrs Parker Bowles in church, because her former husband Andrew is still alive. Mr Awkward, or what?

On a logical level, all of this is nonsense. If you've been divorced, you've been divorced, irrespective of whether your ex-husband or wife is alive or not. On a more human level, it's just a bit unforgiving: people make mistakes. Surely the issue is not whether you've been divorced, but whether you're committed to a long-term relationship enshrined in law, which is essentially what marriage is in modern times. In any case, the Church has been marrying unsuited and immature people for hundreds of years, not to mention countless non-believers who have a church wedding because it's a nice spectacle and if they didn't, their mums would be upset.

Of course, some elements of the church say that Charlie boy can't marry a divorcee per se. Church Society chairman George Curry told the BBC that Charles' marriage to Mrs Parker Bowles would be an 'adulterous union... according to the teachings of Jesus Christ'.

Technically, yes, but it's hardly like marrying Liz Taylor to Hugh Heffner. It's yet another example of the church tying itself in theological knots while it wilfully ignores much bigger problems.

The C of E is suffering a desperate recruitment crisis, what with this nasty 'science and progress' business. The next generation of churchgoers just hasn't materialised, and the bulk of congregations is little old ladies. They'd probably applaud the idea of Charles marrying Camilla - it's a bit Barbara Cartland.

Of course, the C of E isn't just losing members to atheism and indifference. Many people have turned to New Ageism, a quasi- religion that can at one level be regarded as progressive, because it rejects sexism and dogma, but which is really just a pick'n'mix bag of mystical crap. Nor would it be surprising to see more people being attracted to fundamentalist Christianity, because one of the attractions of religion is that it provides you with certainties in a confusing world.

But what's really stuffed the Church of England is that going to church doesn't provide any of the things it used to. Leaving aside actual religious belief, it just doesn't have the social benefits. Unlike the olden days, going to church these days is seen as a chore, not a chance to see all your neighbours and have a good sing-song of all the latest hits. You can't sell a few sacks of turnips to a neighbour. For young people, church is not a social opportunity, unless you crave the company of social misfits with strange partings. You can't even get let off the hook for doing evil things (unless you're a Catholic).

So come on C of E, get back to your roots! Let's make church- going fun (and profitable) again. TFT suggests the following changes:

- Boring old hymns to be replaced with singalong karaoke classics: I Will Survive, American Pie, Tainted Love, Three Lions, Bat Out of Hell, etc.

- Services to feature e-Bay-style auctions hosted by vicar.

- All young Christians to be given a proper haircut and, if necessary, plastic surgery.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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