I'm reading a fascinating account of faith in England at the moment. Called Is God Still an Englishman: How we lost our faith (but found new soul), it's author Cole Moreton, tells the story of the last twenty to thirty years of English church life, trying to account to the collapse in attendance and emergence of a new English identity (Thanks to Glen Marshall for the tip about this book sometime ago).
Moreton writes as a player in these events, not just an observer. A self-confessed teenage fundamentalist, he marched for Jesus in the 1980s, working for a US-based youth organisation that sends young missionaries across the world to share their faith. He was evangelical, charismatic, committed, passionate. Now he is a sceptic.
Part of his book is an attempt to account to himself - and anyone else who's interested - what happened and why, and whether it matters. There are profoundly moving bits of this story and much to think about.
Last night I was reading his account of the publication of Faith in the City. I remember as a young journalist, buying my copy of the report from the book shop in Liberty's on Regent Street on my way to work. I remember talking about it with my editor, partly because we were wondering if there was a story in it for us (I was business editor on Marketing Week at the time, so it seemed unlikely) and partly because he was intrigued with the idea that the church still had something to say about the world we all lived in.
Last night this quote from the report stood out: 'it is the poor who have borne the brunt of the recession, yet it is the poor who are seen by some as "social security scroungers" or a burden on the country preventing economic recovery.' Plus ca change, hey?!
Faith in the City helped to cement my call to ministry - a year after its publication, I was beginning study at London Bible College, en route to ministry in Peckham, a community savaged by the 1980s recession and still suffering its effects when I arrived there in 1989.
Later, in the mid-1990s, I had the huge privilege and joy of working with David Sheppard, the Bishop of Liverpool, one of Faith in the City's authors, on the Churches' Enquiry into Unemployment and the Future of Work (I was representing the BUGB on the steering group of that investigation).
Faith in the City helped to shape my understanding of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world in which we live. it wasn't a perfect piece of work by any means. But it was a challenge to the followers of Jesus to take seriously their call to be a transforming presence in their communities.
For Moreton, it was one more fault line indicating that the church was losing its place as the moral conscience of our country. Its publication co-incided with Live Aid, a clear demonstration that you didn't have to faith to change the world. It was evidence that England's God was losing his grip on the English - in particular on him.