A View From Middle England - Conservative with a slight libertarian touch - For Christian charity and traditional belief - Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Practising Muslims to overtake churchgoers

Damian Thompson has a piece on his blog about practising Muslims outnumbering churchgoing Britons. Shock horror! I think this needs to be taken apart as a statement of "fact". Just turning up at a mosque doesn't make one a believer practising or otherwise. It just acts as a number cruncher.

When I moved to a parish in Surrey at the age of 5, our local church was responsible for 5,000 souls. Most of these lived in their own homes. There were some flats, subdivided Victorian houses, but not much else. 500 souls fairly regularly attended church. In the middle of the 1950's we had "Holy Communion", Mattins and Evensong and a service for the local prep school. Excluding the school, around 10% of the parish were known attenders. Over the years the parish grew in numbers, mainly by new flats and knocking the old Victorian houses down to make way for executive homes. Interestingly quite a few of the newcomers were not from church backgrounds. We got to 10,000 in the parish, but our congregation had dwindled to 100 regulars. We were now down to 1% of the parish. Mattins had gone into the ecclesiastical history book, Evensong was attended by stalwarts ("I'm not a Eucharist man, myself!" was one remark I will always remember) and the new, but not always reliable, Sung Eucharist. We soldiered on, or they did, because I'm not there now. I believe it's still around the same number of 100 today.

A lot of Muslim men go to the mosque today very much like CofE men did in the Fifties. A core belief in God was there, no question. But the meeting of friends, catching up with gossip and, it has to be said, being seen to be there was essential. As soon as the social stigma of not being in church receded, so those not so sure of it all drifted away. Many Muslims will drift away as they are doing now. I don't say this with any sense of pride, pleasure, sadness or bewilderment. It's merely an observation and comment. But I think it is valid.

When I was 5 we had no Muslims in our parish. There was one Hungarian! Muslims were generally known as Mohammedans and I had a visions of ragheaded men with long swords brandishing their weapons at each other whilst on horseback. Or else they were being thrown from turreted towers in sandy deserts. There were a lot of books like this for children then. And adults sometimes gave lurid descriptions of the Middle East. Now it is all very different. Mosques are in this country just as much as in the Middle East.

This isn't so much about adherents to a religion as about our attitudes to immigration. The British discuss immigration in rather the same way as they do sexual activity. It's all innuendo, half-truths and involvement with carpets and sweepers!

I now go to a church in a parish that is overwhelmingly Muslim. It's Birmingham, multi-cultural, and lively. We are a catholic parish in a brave new world. I don't sense I have much to worry about with my Muslim neighbours. No, it's more the illiberal attitudes of so-called liberal Christians who can't stand anyone with a view they do not hold. The Church of England is currently not as inclusive as they like to think.


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