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Last month, reader Lleweton and I saw The Telegraph article about Anglican vicars with beards.

(Photo credit: Stephen Tunstall via Twitter)

Both of us wondered if the UK had reached peak beard, which, according to hirsute columnist Christopher Howse, should have happened in 2014.

The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, who has a well-trimmed beard, singled out two priests in the capital’s East End for praise. Both Reverends — Cris Rogers, Vicar of All Hallows, Bow, and Adam Atkinson, Vicar of St Peter’s church in Bethnal Green — sport hipster beards which help them connect with Muslim men and boys.

One neighbourhood man told Rogers:

I can respect you because you have got a beard.

Atkinson explained:

“It is an icebreaker – St Paul said ‘I become all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some’

“In our area there are three main groups, the poor, the ‘cool’ and the Muslims and beards cover at least two groups reasonably well.

“A Muslim friend said ‘I will lend you a hat and you can join me on Friday [prayers]. It was done in a jokey way but it was quite affirming.”

He added: “I have got Jewish heritage from a few generations ago and I am conscious around here that there is something about the ‘holy man’.”

Uh huh.

One wonders, among the ‘cool’, how that translates to getting more hipsters into church.

Because, one month later — on February 17, 2016 — The Telegraph reported the Church of England is panicking about the slump in church attendance. Churchgoing is unlikely to revive for another three decades. To that, I would add ‘if ever’:

Even if it sees an influx of young people to services, the sheer numbers of older worshippers dying in the next few decades mean it is unlikely to see any overall growth in attendances until the middle of this century, officials now believe.

The stark calculations were revealed during discussions at the Church’s decision-making General Synod, which has been meeting in London, about ambitious plans to tackle declining numbers.

It is preparing to pump £72 million into a “reform and renewal” drive which includes plans to ordain 6,000 more clergy in the 2020s to build a younger priesthood which is less male dominated and less white.

As usual, the conclusion is that the CofE is institutionally hideously white and male.

The Synod is barking up the wrong tree.

No man wants feminised religion. And if a man does not attend church, his children won’t, either. Those who don’t believe me can read the following posts (see my Christianity/Apologetics page under ‘Church attendance — why it is in decline’):

Here’s what happens when Dad doesn’t attend church

Why Johnny won’t SING!

Women priests in the Anglican Church

Women bishops won’t boost Church of England membership

Once more with feeling — are church services too feminine?

The real problem with the CofE is that there is a clear lack of traditional liturgy on offer and a deplorable lack of biblical preaching.

In October 2015, a British study showed that 38% of people in the UK doubt Jesus ever existed, more than half doubt He rose from the dead and 25% of those under 35 believe He is a fictional character.

I was appalled to arrive here nearly 30 years ago only to find Sunday services with free-form, spontaneous prayers from the priest and little to nothing in the sermons that taught about the Scripture readings we had heard.

Granted, perhaps I was unlucky in my first London parish church.

The next one was better, but the liturgy was Roman Catholic. Why? It was not a High Church parish. Even those churches use Anglican liturgies.

My current one, outside the capital, is fine. The church has had three vicars since I began attending. The first was excellent. The second was a borderline atheist who spoke about secular poetry on Ash Wednesday, adding that, if we wanted ashes, we could impose them ourselves! Thankfully, he retired. The present one is good. He actually preaches on the readings and explains them, which is a blessing when it comes to the more obscure books from the Old Testament.

The CofE has also said that many clergy will be retiring in the coming years:

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, revealed that, in addition to the losses in the pews, around 70 per cent of the current body of clergy will have retired by 2030.

The Synod is implementing a programme called Renewal and Reform. According to The Telegraph, some call it Search and Rescue. A call for vocations, especially among the young, is part of the new scheme.

For now, the paper reports that the CofE’s biggest concern is that many of their members are forced to rely on food banks because their benefits have been stopped unfairly. The Synod is committed to lobbying Parliament for an independent review of why this is and what can be done about it.

As important as that is, one wonders about the greater issue of a country that has less and less knowledge of Christ Jesus because our established Church is engaged in socio-political mission rather than the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20):

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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