The Archers' Simon Williams on the death of religion: 'Sundays now are more for B&Q than C of E'
I’m a lousy, curmudgeonly Christian. If Saint Peter were the doorman of, say, The Garrick Club, he’d classify me as ‘a country member’ – a poor-weather friend. The Rev Lucy Winkett of St James’s, Piccadilly wrote recently that the British look on churchgoing as they do going to the loo: ‘It’s good manners not to say where they’ve been, and never mention what happened there.’ In my childhood our bedtime prayers were just a list of relatives and pets to be blessed or cured, and ‘Please let Daddy’s play get good reviews.’ At boarding school, aged eight, I used to pray myself into a homesick sleep, ‘Oh Lord, help me with algebra and fielding practice, and don’t let the dog or my budgie or granny die before Easter.’ There’s never been anything in my life to match the melancholy of evensong after a home weekend – Jesus with his stained-glass smile fading in the dusk. ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.’ I grew to love churchgoing; its ritual, its poetry, the dismal chanting and the smell of floor polish and dead flowers. There’s never been anything in my life to match the melancholy of evensong at boarding school after a home weekend Alas, the Church has fallen prey to moving with the times, so, like a teenager watching his parents doing the twist, I cringe. It’s all radio mics and fake candles. Outside Birmingham Cathedral a sign reads, ‘Is The Hokey Cokey Really What It’s All About?’ It’s Christianity for heaven’s sake, not karaoke. Why oh why change the wonderful language that our faith has hinged on since the 17th century? The Lord’s Prayer during the service had 10 alterations from the version I was taught (‘trespass’ to ‘sin’ etc), to throw me off my stride. And what well-intentioned zealot changed, ‘Mary took these things and pondered them in her heart,’ to ‘thought about it often’, or ‘swaddling clothes’ to ‘strips of cloth’? The Royal Shakespeare Company has the ‘House full’ boards out. No rewrites – no Hamlet declaiming, ‘Should we exist or not, that is what needs research’ – whereas the four churches in my local benefice are 93 per cent empty. They’ll be taken over by Starbucks soon, with free Wi-Fi. Poor dear God. In Sweden they’ve declared Him gender-neutral, and a recent survey showed that one in three children aged 10 to 13 didn’t know that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. Sundays now are more for B&Q than C of E. Faith, hope and charity have somehow gone out of vogue; today, the milk of human kindness flows instead through Cancer Research, Comic Relief and Children in Need. So come all ye faithful, let’s do a car boot sale or run a marathon dressed as Peppa Pig. Simon hasn’t been in Dictionary Corner on Countdown for far too long – but he is in The Archers The Archers Simon Williams