As a representative of Churches Together, I have been asked to write a monthly column under the banner of “Faith Matters” for the local newspaper the Leighton Buzzard Observer. The first article appears on 29th May 2018. This is the article.
An age of the Spirit
More than half the people in Britain now describe themselves as ‘of no religion’, or, as the sociologists describe them, ‘nones’. This is surprising because spirituality is very popular and cathedrals, in particular, are thriving, welcoming thousands every year. It seems that religious practice is changing. Fewer people are attending church services but there are new ways of expressing faith.
This is true of Europe but not of the rest of the world. In many countries religion is a vital part of culture, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or any other faith. In many societies religion and everyday life are interwoven, and there are multitudes of ways of showing religious faith.
In this country, for example, it is a common sight to see flowers attached to lamp-posts at the side of the road. Many people on holiday enjoy visiting churches and may well light a candle while they are there. Faith schools are in great demand. And even if people do not go to Church, they are glad that other people do; what someone has called ‘vicarious religion’.
So is this an age of atheism? Apparently not. It is just that people are expressing ‘faith’ in many and varied ways. Perhaps this could be called the ‘age of the spirit’. Whereas ‘God’ can be problematic for many people, the idea that there is some force, or power, or purpose or meaning in the universe is an idea that many people can accept. Admittedly, the word ‘Spirit’ or ‘spirit’ can mean lots of different things, and that may be its attraction. It can refer to anything from courage to compassion, or from alcohol to angels.
Holy Spirit is, of course, central to Christianity. The festival of the coming of the Spirit on the disciples of Jesus at Pentecost has just been celebrated this month. The story tells of the fearful followers of Jesus being transformed into confident communicators of good news. The Spirit enabled them to cross the language barrier to tell people from all over the known world the hope to be found in Jesus. The sign of the Spirit’s presence was the sound of a mighty wind and flames of fire anointing each of the disciples. They became missionaries, apostles, spreading the word and showing the love and compassion they had seen in Jesus.
One of the phrases from the Bible which has long appealed to me is from Paul describing how the Spirit can be seen. It is in ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control’. That spirit is not confined to one Church or even one religion. It may even be a spirit that we all hope we can embody. So whether you count yourself as religious or not, you may be ‘spiritual’.
In taking over from a much loved predecessor, Robin Gurney, I hope that the passion for faith he displayed will continue to be reflected in these columns.