Church must shed its middle class image, says bishop

By staff writers
22 Sep 2009

The Bishop of Reading has expressed his frustration with the Church of England's middle class image, insisting that the Church should be a place “where people can be just as they are”.

The Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell compared the Church's elite image with the message of Jesus, who “got us started with church simply”.

He said it was “so frustrating” to meet so many people “who think you have to be highly educated or suited and booted to be a person who goes to church”.

The bishop was speaking ahead of Back to Church Sunday on 27th September.

“How did it come to this?” he asked, “That we have become known as just the Marks & Spencer option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Asda or Aldi?”

The bishop's words seem to be a challenge to the Anglican Church to do more to promote itself to working class people. Cotrell is noted as a supporter of a more inclusive Church.

Insisting that Christianity was “not a hobby but a way of life”, he said that church is “not about how you look, what you do, how you sound, how well you sing”.

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Rev Steven Croft, has broadcast a YouTube invitation to church, arguing that “The Church of England is learning to become again the church for the whole nation - poor and rich”. Others are likely to dispute how well the Church is achieving this aim and whether it is really addressing working class people's everyday concerns.

Although Church of England weekly attendance fell below one million for the first time in 2007, statistics on the class background of worshippers are not published.

But a 2009 Tearfund survey found that 26 per cent of British people attend church at least once a year, with “AB social class (34 per cent) and owner occupiers without a mortgage (32 per cent) among the groups over-represented and “C2 social class (21 per cent); DE social class (22 per cent); single people (19 per cent) and council tenants (19 per cent)” among those under- represented.

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