The application has been submitted – including the note to the Vicar outlining our “commitment” to the Church! In a few more weeks we hear if our eldest has got into Faith High. Indications are good.
Assuming all goes to plan, what do we do next? We still have Child 2 to get into school. Looking at the admissions criteria I am tempted to just play the sibling card and stop going to church. This effectively moves Child 2 from priority 2 to priority 5 on the list. Dropping down, to be sure, but she would still be above those first borns who don’t have the Vicar’s letter.
Not sure what the best plan is. Would dearly love to stop going to church. But should I risk it?
The Church of England’s baptism rite is in the news at the moment. Apparently, they’ve noticed that fewer and fewer children are being baptised and have concluded that, rather than people being less and less interested in religion, it is due to the archaic wording of the service. It goes on about “entering the Kingdom of Heaven” – or so they say: I was one month old when I was done so my memory is a little hazy.
Last week as we left Church, we got chatting to the Vicar – all good face-time. Make sure he sees us in the pews and knows who we are for when the all important letter needs signing. He asked if our children had been baptised. If I’d been quick, I’d have just lied and said “Yes”. (I’m sure there’s a record in the CofE somewhere, but he’s hardly likely to check it.) Unfortunately, my wife was quicker and more honest. The children haven’t been baptised. He suggested we do something about it and has offered to come round for a chat.
Hence the title of this post. My bookshelf is full of books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Grayling of the “new” atheists, and some “old” atheists like Russell and Flew. Some popular science on Darwin and some sceptical biblical criticism. I even have a copy of the Book of Mormon I pinched from a US hotel room. Thankfully, there’s also a Bible in the house somewhere.
As I contemplate moving at least a shelf-full of the more damning ones, I wonder if we’ve got too involved….
…Not a sudden conversion. Not the Stockholm Syndrome. No. I find myself in church, as a adult, singing Kum By Yah whilst various members of the audience bang tambourines. Truly horrible.
For some reason yesterday the normal service (CofE slow hymn singing and recitations) became all happy-clappy. This had better not continue. It’s bad enough attending church when it’s merely boring; when it makes you cringe it is just too much.
Some light relief.
As I’ve said before, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the parent-age attendees at the church we go to are non-believers hoping to get the school admissions procedure to work in their interest. The aim is to get yourself seen as much as possible, maybe help with a coffee morning or deliver some leaflets, and get the Vicar’s signature. I know this for a fact about some other parents who attend. We are friendly with two couples and often end up with them; sitting towards the back of the church – rather like the “bad lads” on the school bus.
Imagine the frustration a couple of weeks ago when a group of us were sitting near the back in the centre aisle waiting for the service to begin. About two rows in front of us was one of the Curates (I think that is what he is: a sort of junior vicar who sometimes helps in the service). I pointed him out to one of our group. She whispered back “another one at 2 O’clock”; and sure enough there was an older vicar (who may have given a sermon to us in the past) a few rows forward and to the right. After that another one was spotted at 10 O’clock – this time unknown to us but he definitely meant business with his dog-collar clearly visible. We all had to be on our best behaviour for the next hour and put on a heightened display of piety.
Where did all these Vicars come from? Haven’t they got churches of their own to go to?
From this article by Christina Odone we learn that Richard Dawkins is to put together a documentary for Channel 4 on faith schools. Ms Odone (who, by the way, is solely responsible for my avoidance of the New Statesman magazine) is really having a go at Peter Tatchell, but manages to get in a few half-truths and outright lies about Dawkins in as she does so. It seems she is not happy with anyone presenting a programme about an aspect of Religion unless they are overwhelmingly sympathetic towards it. Good job she’s not responsible for political reporting.
Anyway, this post is not about that. When Richard Dawkins puts together his documentary I wonder if he is going to cover the dilemma of parents like myself? What are the feelings and views of those going to church for admissions reasons? It will be difficult to get anyone to go on camera if they are still going through the process; it might be possible to get someone who no longer has children going through the school to do so but that might appear a bit outdated.
I have visions of parents being interviewed in shadow with a little caption saying the words are being spoken by an actor. What volumes that would speak about the faith-based admissions policies that this Government and the last one seem so keen on.
Well, nothing for a couple of months then two in quick succession. This one even has a diagram – if I can get it to upload.
I was struck a while back by a report claiming that Church of England attendance is now about 1.1 million per week – here’s a summary of the facts. It’s been in decline for a while and the average age is over 60. I started wondering how many of each congregation are attending for pragmatic, not religious, reasons like me? How many are gritting their teeth, sitting through hours of nonsense, in order to get a chance of a good school?
What’s the “real” attendance: attendance by those who are there because they are adherents of the CofE denomination and would attend regardless of whether they have a child needing an admissions letter signed?
This is very difficult to estimate for a number of reasons. The obvious one is that those doing like me are not going to say so out loud. There’s a reason this blog is anonymous. In addition, some people may not fit neatly into the theist/atheist categories; they may be vaguely religious (or “spiritual”) but would not ordinarily attend church without needing a school place.
Let’s try some guess-work here; what follows is nothing like a scientific exercise. Attending church recently I did some mental calculations to categorise and calculate the type and number of attendees. It breaks down like this:
Figures all very rough estimates: Elderly – 70; Children Primary Age or less – 35; Teenagers, early 20s – 5; Late 20s, 30s, 40s – 35. Total: 145.
These bear out the reports to some extent but contrast in others. Almost half the attendees at my Church are elderly (as I say, this is all approximate – I have merely categorised those who are elderly based on my subjective assessment of looks). On the other hand a good quarter of them are children (primary age or maybe slightly older) and almost another quarter are in their late-20s, 30s or 40s. The smallest group are late-teens and early 20s.
Let’s assume that the elderly and those in late-teens. early 20s are “genuine” believers: they are unlikely to have a child needing to get into a certain school.
Of the rest, it is fairly obvious, both from the fact that children don’t attend church on their own and that they are sitting amongst the older group, that the groups correspond to “Parents” and “Children”. I looked around to see how many of the older group did not appear to be with children and there were only a handful.
The question remains: how many of the parents and children are there for pragmatic reasons? Of the parents I know, all are there because of school admissions. However, I only know a handful well enough to say this with confidence. On the other hand, there are some parents who seem genuinely religious: including a couple whom we have nick-named Mr & Mrs Faith-Head who wear t-shirts with Christian messages and sing loudly and with great gusto. Most are, thankfully, fairly normal looking.
This is where the real guess-work begins, but even if we reduce the number of parents and children by half (and I suspect that the real percentage of those attending for non-faith reasons is much higher) the whole congregation would be reduced by a quarter.
Again, little can be generalised, but it would be interesting to compare the congregation break-down with other CofE churches: including those with faith Primary Schools nearby and those with no faith schools in the vicinity.
Whatever the actual figures, I strongly believe that if faith schools did not exist, CofE weekly attendance would be below the psychological 1 million. And falling.
No wonder the Churches are keen to hang onto “their” schools.
Having been attending church for a while now, I am building up a short list of occasions when not to attend. Principal among these is Easter: all that blood-sacrifice stuff gets a bit much at this festival.
I’m adding Mothering Sunday to the list. I thought it would be along the lines of nice little homilies on Motherhood – something none of us can really object to. However, it turned out to be a lot of nonsense about our “Mother Church”. Usually Christianity seems to go in for full-on patriarchy (“Our Father”, etc) but, like a Thought for the Day presenter shoe-horning Jesus into the latest football score, they seem keen to explain how the Church is like our Mother. And Jesus had a Mother as well, did you know.
It was all pretty awful and made worse by the fact that we had to turn to a stranger and hug them at some point. The only saving grace was that we were accompanied by one of the in-laws who, although she doesn’t attend church herself, thinks it is a good thing that we do and that our children will go to a faith school. A classic case of what Dan Dennett calls “believing in belief”.
I am glad to report that she was as embarrassed as we were by the whole thing. Hopefully, she’ll be a bit quieter about the joys of church-going in future!