Greggs the national bakery chain has decided to stop selling bread in many of its stores. Instead they will focus on the takeaway market; snacks not loaves of bread are the order of the day.
The high street bakery, and the purchase of the traditional family loaf, are in decline, much as has happened to the butcher and the green grocer. Beyond the mass-produced supermarket sliced loaf, bread has moved into a niche market with the emergence of artisan bakers and stalls at farmers markets.
Once the Church of England represented itself as the nation’s church. If of no other persuasion, everyone ticked the box marked “CofE”, but no longer. The latest social attitude survey shows a steep decline in those claiming to be Anglican. The largest category now is “no religion”.
The question is: does the Church of England carry on trying to be the national church, much as if Greggs decided to carry on selling bread which nobody wants, or does the Church need to recognise that the culture has moved on and, like Greggs, find new ways of being.
Are we moving into a new spiritual economy where there will be fewer places but still offering quality worship (regardless of tradition), the religious equivalent of the artisan bakery, alongside religious events and happenings, offering the church equivalent of snacks and takeaways.
We may want to proclaim that what we are dealing with in the Church is far more fundamental to life than daily bread, but do we just keep on as we are, like Greggs continuing to sell bread, in the hope that, one day, the tradition of the family loaf will return. Or has the time come for the Church to embrace deep and profound change – change as fundamental as a baker no longer selling bread.
The culture in which the Church of England is set is shifting in significant ways that we ignore at our peril. However just because it is becoming a less churchy age does not mean this is a more God-less age. The challenge for the Church of England is to find ways, ancient and contemporary, that ensure the rumour of God is kept alive. Or to put it another way, when bakers stop selling bread, how should we speak of the Living Bread?