The Renewal and Reform programme has attracted controversy, in part because it has begun to spend the church’s huge investment fund – not just the return it generates – in order to establish new evangelical churches, often in the heart of cities. More than 100 new churches were announced last year in coastal areas, market towns and urban housing estates – a serious attempt to expand Anglicanism, while about 25 churches are closed each year.
Some, like St Peter’s in Brighton, have modernised the music, decor and ethos of old churches. Others have occupied secular buildings. For a time, the Harbour church in Portsmouth could be found in an old department store. In Swindon, plans are under way to turn a former Great Western Railway building into a large new place of worship. The Fountains in Bradford will soon take over an old nightclub complex, once home to less godly venues called Revolution, Tequila and Vibe. Gas Street is technically “St Luke’s”, but churchy names are falling out of fashion too.
The plan is to attract young people, in part by going to the city centres, where young people can be found. The next round of grants from the church’s Strategic Development Fund, part of the Renewal and Reform programme, will be explicitly devoted to projects that “are targeted on promoting church growth within the largest urban areas; and one or both of younger generations and poorer communities”. In effect, though everyone insists that the church has not forgotten the countryside, it means a focus for the future on the UK’s 75 largest cities and towns.
There are about 150 students at Gas Street on the night I visit. Worship starts at 8pm, before which they socialise over plates of paella from a giant pan. It is early in the term and some of them may be taking their first steps into the church, so the organisers asked me not to talk to people at random. Instead I am introduced to several regulars, including Crystal, who is certainly a fine example of how they can help some young people in need. Right now the church’s own needs are nearly as great, however. If they do not ignite an Anglican revival among young people in the next couple of decades, then these new city-centre ventures will be the last stand of the Church of England.
Churches in nightclubs and Anglican gyms: can the C of E win back city dwellers? https://t.co/pqDeP3EqCs
— The Guardian (@guardian) October 30, 2019