Sixteen years ago, St Stephen’s church in Bradford was on the verge of closure. Its congregation had dwindled to half a dozen, and the building – a “big old barn of a place”, in a predominantly Muslim area – was in poor repair. “People thought it had had its day,” said the Rev Jimmy Hinton.
Now, St Stephen’s is a vital hub, providing support and activities in an area of acute deprivation. The nave has been cleared of its pews, and heating has been installed. On a typical day, you might find an exercise class, a support group for asylum seekers and refugees, community meals being cooked and served, singing and stories for infants, mosaic-making, and people hunting for jobs or claiming benefits online.
Yes, sure, community stuff is good. And yet the point here is that the CoE can only fill the barns by not being religious any more. Which is odd really, as the places that do pack them in to the rafters for religious reasons are the places that do the fire and brimstone version.