I have just finished reading “A People’s Church” – an excellent history of the Church of England by Jeremy Morris published by Profile Books. It’s a fascinating account of an institution that you may think you know, because it has always just been “there”. But you will soon discover it is an organisation far more intriguing and complex than you ever realised. It is a story both of extraordinary continuity and remarkable change. Continuity because the church is like a storm bent tree, deep-rooted in tradition and history. Change because it its wrong to suppose, to quote from the book, “that the church that burned heretics at the stake is really the same institution underneath as the Church that runs food banks in the inner city today”.
Continuity and change – Jeremy Morris manages to square this circle with notable erudition and skill. Maybe it’s bit of a stretch, but I see a parallel in the two Wren churches of St Mary Abchurch and St Stephen Walbrook. Both were exercises in “squaring the circle” as Wren was placing a circular dome upon square foundations. He was endeavouring to work out the spatial geometry and architectural principles that underpin this arrangement, before expressing it in the glory of St Pauls Cathedral. I would also like to think that, in tracing the lost churches in the City of London through the few remaining parish boundary markers, you will get a brief echo – a thin bat squeak – of the devotion and faith of those who gave their lives to protect an institution that is merely taken for granted today.