Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pagan Church? Don't You Believe It

Update: detailed piece from Steve Hollinghurst on what the CofE is really doing, and how the Telegraph's spin on the story was way off the mark.

There are various outraged noises in response to a piece on Radio 4 yesterday, talking about how Christians respond to events like the gathering of 20,000 people for the summer solstice.

"The church of England is making efforts to recruit the increasing number of people who describe themselves as pagans" (Radio 4 presenter)

You can hear the report here, at 1 hour 25 minutes in. Robert Piggott the BBC correspondent talks about Anglicans 'reformulating' their faith. Steve Hollinghurst from CMS talks about a 'pagan church, where Christ is very much at the centre', and goes on to describe a church which worships Jesus but which draws on the kind of practices that pagans would engage with. That's not massively different from a 'biker church' or some other form of church planted into a subculture. Christians have been involved in outreach to pagan and new age subculture for a while - e.g. the Jesus Deck, or Spirit of Life, a crossover event hosted at Coventry Cathedral a few years back.

I don't see anything to be scared of in this. A standard church of England service simply won't hit the spot with the kind of people attracted to paganism. A few years ago I did some research into 'creation spirituality', a neopagan movement based around the writings of former Catholic priest Matthew Fox (not the guy in Lost, another one), and found that many of its adherents were former members of mainstream churches, who had left because the church was so disconnected from nature, green issues, human experience and community.

1. If anyone has a problem with what Steve Hollinghurst said, or the other contributors to the Radio 4 piece, why not engage him directly? Isn't this what Jesus tells us to do?

2. Steve explicitly talked about 'Christ at the centre', in a piece where the BBC had clearly pulled sentences out of a bigger interview. Do we really imagine that a short radio piece will give us the whole story? I'm constantly suprised at the ability of Christians to rush to judgement before seeking to understand things or find out all the facts.

3. Having worked (briefly) with Steve in the past, I would want to commend him for his courage and creativity. The piece was talking about outreach to pagans and those sympathetic to paganism. It's a small but growing number, and as DL Moody once said about evangelism "my way of doing it is better than your way of not doing it". Rather than talk about the death of the CofE, lets talk about why some people are turning to paganism rather than to Christ, and how we should respond to that.

4. If you want to get worried about paganism infiltrating the church, then talk to the Episcopal Church in the USA, who received Fox as a priest following his ejection from the Roman Catholic church. Fox's writings effectively present a form of paganism cloaked in Christian language (radically redefined to accomodate Fox's beliefs). He was received publicly by the bishop of San Francisco, and is a regular feature at Grace Cathedral.


  1. Outraged of Tunbridge Wells. Like it. The quintessential Telegraph reader.

  2. Well said, Dave. In the age of twitter, disobeying matthew 18.15-17 (confront your brother or sister 1:1 before launching a viral campaign based on misunderstanding - my paraphrase!) is even more without excuse than it used to be.
    Andy Griffiths

  3. One of my best friends is a Pagan, and her attitudes towards poverty and many of the other injustices in our society make her far more Christlike than many Christians I know. She cares enough to take action — radical action — in ways that would put most Christians to shame. I'd love for her to see Jesus as I do, but Christians have largely driven her away with their unChristlike attitudes and behaviour.

    Gandhi was right: "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians: they are so unlike him."

  4. I don't have access to Radio 4, but I did read an article about this in The Telegraph, which was one of the worst pieces of religious journalism I have ever seen (see here.

    For my take on Christian relations with and approaches to Neopagans, see Christianity, paganism and literature (synchroblog) | Notes from underground.

  5. Gandhi was right: "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians: they are so unlike him."
    It would be quite funny if it was not so true!!
    Comparing millions of professing Christians of today with the teachings of the 1st Century Apostles, is virtually impossible.