In today’s Independent, Mary Ann Sieghart, who is not a Christian believer, eloquently defends the Church of England against recent attacks from Richard Dawkins, who appears to think that the church is a worthless and even malign institution.
One of Ms Sieghart’s reasons for that defence chimed strongly with me:
Social workers, teachers and doctors may commute into impoverished areas, but the vicar is often the only professional still living in the parish he or she serves. You don’t get more in touch than that.
I am sometimes intensely frustrated as local friends deal with professionals who come into our parish to run things and advise people on their lives. Once you live outside an area it is very difficult to truly know the people who live there. The parish system of the Church of England is one of its true strengths.
Vicars know their parishes better than many social workers, councillors and politicians know their patch. Their houses are not open to callers, they are not mingling with local folk at multiple weekly events attended by the young, the old and the needy. Knowing people is about more than hearing their problems at a surgery or dealing with them in a professional capacity. It’s about being with them, drinking coffee and eating cake, weeping with them and just hanging out.
Christians in churches other than the CofE are also serving in the inner city and deprived urban areas – for example, Mez McConnell is pastor of a church on a housing scheme in Niddrie, the most deprived housing estate in Edinburgh.
I wonder how many of Richard Dawkins’ atheist pals have chosen to live in an inner city area to make a difference? How many of them are visiting the elderly and running youth clubs? God’s love motivates us to serve the folk in our parish and to live in an area that most people would be unlikely to choose as ‘desirable’. What motivates Richard Dawkins I wonder?