In pursuit of Mr Brain's handmaidens Truths which will embarrass the church

Faith & Reason Andrew Brown finds that one of the most frightening revelations in the Nine O'Clock Service scandal is of a section of the Church with no idea of what a cultural tradition might be.

Well, and here we go again. The story of the Rev Chris Brain, who laid on hands where he didn't ought to, has caught the imagination of the respectable half of the nation: it interests middle-market papers far more than the tabloids. The Daily Mail carried three pages including the front page on the second day of the scandal. The Sun carried nothing. This is partly a tribute to the authorities in the diocese of Sheffield. They have concealed none of the important facts; only the interesting ones.

If we are to have laws on privacy, then they should be framed bearing in mind the way the Church in Sheffield has so well distinguished between truths which will embarrass the Church, and which have been freely available, and the truths which might shame the victims of the scandal and which have been successfully concealed.

There were at least 20 print journalists in Sheffield last week, all hunting for one of Mr Brain's handmaidens, and no one would talk to the press. The women most affected were guarded by security guards with dogs in a large private house. This would not have stopped them talking to the press had they wanted to, but it let them avoid it when they did not want to. And in the absence of any juicy details about exactly who did what, with which, and to whom, there was nothing for the tabloids to get their teeth into so they went off to chew other victims, notably Mr and Mrs Barrymore.

The same difficulties did not deter the middle-market and the broadsheet papers from carrying the scandal at length. But their readers are more likely to go to church. Their readers, in fact, are often the sort of people who might have been members of the Nine O'Clock Service. So far as I can tell, the Nine O'Clock Service was not actually composed of working- class people or even potential recruits to the Jesus Army. They ignored it as they tended to ignore the rest of the Church of England. Rather, it was made up of people like me, and perhaps like you: middle-class types with bohemian leanings. It may have been made up of people who had never gone to church before, nor known anyone who had, but if the purpose of the whole vast enterprise was to reach out to young urban working-class males, it seems to have failed pretty dismally.

Indeed, one question arising from the fiasco is why the church should bother with that sort of youth work at all. At a time when resources are limited, it seems extraordinary for the Church of England to put any effort into recruiting young men between 15 and 25 who are the group least likely to respond to its efforts. I did put this question to Pete Ward, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Adviser on youth evangelism, and one of the supporters of NOS. I found his reply illuminating in its impenetrability.

"One way of viewing popular culture is that it is a series of messages and symbols and signs and that those move between various groups of people," he said, "and that what's important is for the church to be sending and receiving messages. We're good at communicating. Think of popular culture as Windows 95" "Yes", I said, "We don't need it, and it demands a huge hardware upgrade." But he loved this comeback. He wants Windows 95. He wants the whole church continually upgraded. "If you think of the church building or people, or training, or investment in education as hardware, that's the issue we have to address," he said.

Actually, any sensible computer user asks themselves not whether they have the best possible hardware or software, but whether what they have is not too irritatingly inadequate. And surely the Church of England's present "hardware" is more or less all right.

The really frightening implication of the Sheffield scandal is that these structures might in fact be inadequate. For suppose for a moment that the group did not represent some strange urban subculture, but was actually more or less in the mainstream of modern middle-class life. The problem is not, then, their taste in lights or music: they found the Eagles inadequate to express their conception of God, but many people have done that without drifting into heresy.

Nor is the problem that they found a diet of pure charismatic excitement unfulfilling after a while, and set out to connect to the tradition of the wider church. The problem is that they had no idea of what a cultural tradition might be. It is not something you can build by will-power, any more than you can cook Caribbean food in London. The fresh ingredients just aren't here. If you don't belong in an intellectual or cultural tradition you may have brilliant ideas. What you will lack, though, is common sense. If you have grown up in a wholly secular society you may well find God; what you will lack is a sense of the ridiculous.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes