Blogging Bishops and Church Crusaders

Christianity always gets a good old boost around this time of year – kids dress as Joseph and Mary and craft Christingales, festive cards shower our letterboxes bearing pictures of Jesus on the cross, and most dusty old churches find themselves packed out for one-night-only Midnight Mass.
Fitting, then, that I’ve seen a lot of Christianity in the last few days – interviewing two high-ranking Anglican figures and polishing off a novel about a vicar.
Yesterday I interviewed – for work, I add – the Bishop of Croydon, a pretty controversial figure who was blasted by the national press last year after slagging off good old Christmas carols (read: arguing they were pretty irrelevant). Known as the “Blogging Bishop”, Nick Baines shook my conception of stuffy old Christianity, as happy to chat about John Lennon legacy or Vince Cable’s antics as the church, and sharing it all through his witty blog. It seems pretty notable for someone that has attracted so much controversy – he also faced some serious questions after enraging the press in Zimbabwae last year – and someone who is so media-savvy – with several books under his belt, as well as regular radio appearances and submissions to national newspapers – has just been promoted to one of the top 43 bishops in the country. Oh yes, the reason for the interview; just as he crosses my radar he’s moving onto to head the Bradford Diocese. A promotion.
This up-to-date churchy image was hammered home just a few days earlier by the novel Crusaders, by Richard T Kelly. Described as a “state of the nation epic”, it paints a very vivid portrait of a particular time and place – Newcastle in the mid-nineties – with painfully gritty authenticity. Yet the bulk of it is told through the unlikely eyes of a new vicar. A vicar who swears, sleeps around, has violent impulses and generally seems like a pretty in-touch guy.
These two portraits are clearly anecdotes at best, but in this festive glow of Christmas, its certainly given this atheist-come-agnostic food for thought. I’d recommend the book and the blog too.

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