IT WOULD make a perfect story-line for a soap opera set in Anytown, Middle England. The church of Saint Barnabas, in Gillingham south-east of London, is an imposing red-brick structure of the Victorian era. It hasn’t had a permanent vicar since 2007, but a retired one has kept up a decent cycle of services. The permanent congregation is small (there is an electoral roll of 39) but dedicated, and there is a much larger group of people who appreciate the building. A maiden lady recently bequeathed part of her savings to the church and the money helped restore some fine stained-glass windows. It’s within walking distance of several schools. Earlier this month, the church had an open weekend, and lots of local folk came to enjoy harmless pleasures like a treasure-hunt, bingo and a barbecue.
If it were up to the congregation, the church would surely survive. But the Church of England system vests huge power in the bishop ….