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This Page last updated
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 2:24 PM

Book Review

by Peter Cotton, Team Rector and Area Dean of Hemel Hempstead


“Secular Lives, Sacred Hearts – the role of the Church in a time of no religion.”

by Alan Billings.

(Published by SPCK 2004: ISBN 0-281-05704-4. 134 pages. Available from The Mustard Seed at £10.99)


“Hatch, match and despatch” is how people sometimes rather disparagingly refer to the occasional offices that are such a feature of Anglican parochial ministry. Alan Billings offers an excellent antidote to any misgivings about the value of time spent on baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Church attendance is down and life is apparently more secular. Even so, unchurched people still ask for the occasional offices. These “cultural Christians” seek baptism for their babies (one in five); marry in church (one in four); and arrange for Christian funerals (the vast majority). “Why?” asks Alan Billings.

Drawing on wide experience, he outlines changes in approaches to marriage, to family life and to death. He then suggests reasons why people still seek the Church’s ministry even though their understanding of Christianity is hazy.

So, one reason why unmarried parents bring their baby for baptism is that it offers a chance publicly to celebrate their relationship. This is a far cry, of course, from the Church’s conventional understanding of baptism and Christian commitment!

Or again, a couple seeking marriage may feel there is a solemnity to Church rituals that helps them appreciate the seriousness of their undertaking – in contrast to ceremonies in a secular venue.

Or again, without having firm convictions about life after death, a family arranging a funeral may want to keep the door open, recognising that there may be more to life than meets the eye.

At a time, then, when the church is in danger of turning in on itself, Alan Billings challenges us to be open to those who seek our ministry, whatever their motives. Responding positively and seriously, he says, is essential for future effective parochial ministry.

This is a book for all, ordained and lay, who share in the policy and practice of pastoral work in the parish. It is readable, realistic and encouraging.



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