The Test Of A
Those of us within the
Church of England lament the decline in church
attendance. As vicar of St Basils, I have
sadly noted the increase in vacant pews on
Sundays, despite the periodic appearance of new
Contrary to common belief,
however, this decline is not due to lack of
popular interest in the Church. In common with
most other churches, St Basils has worked
tirelessly on outreach projects aimed at
increasing our numbers, and a slow but steady
stream of the local community have been
encouraged to join our congregation.
There is more to being a
Christian, however, than attending services,
joining prayer groups, and enjoying church social
events. Indeed, this interpretation of the
spiritual path creates an ever present risk of
generating quantity in our membership to the
detriment of quality.
For this reason the Covert
Operations Branch of the General Synod decreed
that clandestine tests should be employed by all
churches to confirm an attitude and Christian
commitment in newer Church attendees, appropriate
to the Kingdom of Heaven.
For the first test, church
heating is turned off before a winter service or,
in summer, windows are closed and heating
adjusted to maximum. The vicar then delivers an
inordinately boring sermon in a tedious,
unremitting monotone which ends with the words:
Let us move to our final hymn as I note
that I have been speaking for nearly two
Finally, the collection is
amassed on an open plate such that the offering
of the initiate is visible to at least a dozen
nearby members of the congregation. Each of these
observers will have already been witnessed
contributing at least fifty pounds these
excessive donations are later quietly refunded.
The second test begins with
the new attendee being asked to drive a disabled
member of the congregation to a Sunday service.
If this is agreed, then a weekly expectation of
such assistance follows.
At St Basils we lack
disabled members who require transportation. We
are fortunate, however, in having links with the
amateur dramatic society in a nearby village
whose Christian members have perfected portrayal
of incontinent and car-sick wheelchair users.
This subterfuge was nearly
exposed when one new member recognised his
allocated passenger on the television as she was
presented with a gold medal in the National
Trampoline Championships. Fortunately, he
eventually accepted the explanation that she had,
since the previous Sunday, visited Lourdes.
The final test engages the
new member in raising money for the
Building Fund. Employing this
approach for decades has provided most churches
with sufficient assets to rebuild their premises
many times over. Indeed, church building fund
accounts have become a cornerstone of Swiss
banking. This is maintained as a closely guarded
secret, however, to avoid destroying the reason
to place testing and time consuming demands for
fundraising activity upon new members - each
demand carefully calculated to coincide with
critical personal commitments.
The cunning outcome of this
selection procedure is that failed aspirants feel
too embarrassed to admit to their lack of
selfless commitment. They simply make some
alternative excuse and leave.
Sadly, the numbers who pass
all three tests are low and not keeping pace with
the demise of our older members. Nevertheless,
the Church is determined that standards should
never be compromised.