steeple chasing

England used to be Roman Catholic (before Henry VIII replaced the Pope with himself and this morphed into the Church of England). This blog has a good post on Franciscans (busy loving everything that comes across their path – rabbits, kittens, spiders, trees, mushrooms) to Dominicans (his favourite Catholic order, because ‘everyone needs a favourite, it’s like baseball’). The abuse scandals have led many to leave for the Episcopalian church (if they can say it) which still has Mass, but without the hell and homophobia. Christian orthodoxy is similar, but they don’t follow the Pope (and you have to fast a lot).

Steeple Chasing is a book by an award-winning writer who decides to tell the story of Britain, by visiting church steeples that remain landmarks in our towns, villages and cities. Even if their influence and authority have waned, they contain art and architectural wonders  – a gallery scattered (like jewels) across these isles.

Join Peter as he visits the unassuming Norfolk church with a disturbing secret and London’s mighty cathedrals with their histories of fire and love. Meet cats and bats, monks and druids, angels of oak and steel. The book celebrates churches for their beauty and meaning, but also for the tales they tell. It is about people as much as place, flesh and bone (not just flint and stone). From the painted hells of Surrey to the holy wells of Wales, consider this a travel book … with bells on.

Today many churches are at risk of being demolished or turned into luxury homes. Our society has so many ills, yet most churches have open doors, kind-hearted people, free help (from counselling to meeting halls, from community gardens to choirs).  And if you haven’t ambled into an free Evening Vespers (sung by ageing monks in Gregorian chant), you haven’t lived.

A lot of this wonderful support is going unused, because people think they are going to be ‘converted’. In fact, you’ll find nearly all people who run places of worship are happy to help. And often for nothing (or a small donation if you can afford it). It’s like this sea of free help out there, that nobody’s using.

But our churches will disappear if we don’t use and appreciate them, as they have no interest for big society or corporate business or politicians (and before you say that some MPs are deeply religious, know that at least two Tory MPs have been rapped on the knuckles by the Catholic church for their beliefs and comments about the poor and food banks).

Green Pastures buys properties to house homeless people. The great idea here is that it then asks churches to invest in their upkeep (rather than putting money on the stock market). Jesus would be proud! Residents offer around 10 hours a week help, in return for housing and help to get their lives back together.

how are churches funded elsewhere?

The days of asking people to put a tenner in the pot is soon to be over. Many people these days don’t use cash (either because it’s a hassle or due to boycotts as they are made with animal fat). And people increasingly see churches with a lot of wealth asking people on the breadline for money, not popular with all the abuse scandals. Almost cashless Sweden is different in that people pay an optional church tax. This means that if the church does not use the money wisely, payments can be taken away. It seems to work, and restores trust in givers too. The same happens in Germany where church tax is usually automatically collected, and then you have the option to opt out.

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