Pubs, Churches and Community
Expanded version of a talk given to the Friends of Kent Churches, 11th May, 2013.
First of all, on behalf of the diocese of Rochester, I would like to thank the Friends of Kent Churches for your generosity towards the churches in Kent, which, of course, includes the boroughs of Bromley and Bexley. Your generosity enables Christians to engage in mission within their communities. It is on the relationship between church and community that I would like to focus.
This morning I was in a pub speaking about the Church: this afternoon, I am in a church wanting to speak about the pub. There is a legendary link between pubs and churches sanctified by St.Theodotus of Ancyra (modern day Ankara in Turkey) who is the patron saint of pub landlords. Traditionally pubs and churches have been landmarks and hubs of communities – and which of us have not used them to give directions- but they are also landmarks about community. In my talk, I will speak about the connections between pubs and churches and the important role they play in the local community and then say something about the Church’s link with the community which is symbolised in its relationship with the pub, though it spreads beyond the pub.
Connections between pubs and churches.
Churches and pubs are places of:
2. Popular culture - especially song and music
3. Thanksgiving and grieving
Local memories, some unrecoverable, are embodied in churches. Churches are places where people talk about the past as they reflect on the present and look towards the future. Church buildings often talk about past through their windows: today we have been hearing the story surrounding the installation of these magnificent Chagall windows here in this church [Tudeley Church, near Tonbridge] and of the tragic accident that brought them here in the first place. Plaques on walls and floors remember those who have been here before. The pews in a church represent stories and people from the past who would have been responsible for making and installing them. The Church registers remember people who have been baptised, married and buried through our churches. Perhaps it is the churchyard that is pre-eminently a place of memories, both for the present generation as well as those who have gone before us.
Pubs, too, are places of memory. Reminiscing over a pint of beer is very common. Pubs are still used for the post-funeral gathering where the recently departed is ‘cheered’ on their way. Pubs may hold some part of history of the community which would otherwise be lost. For instance, their names may tell us of people who were popular in the past. The ‘Duke of Clarence’ remembers a royal character who would be long forgotten by many were his name not immortalised in a number of pubs. The pub at which I spoke this morning was called the ‘Huntsman.’ It stands in a built-up part of Medway, but it is so named after a hunting lodge which stood nearby when, before the bull-dozers arrived, the area was a well-hunted forest.
2. Popular culture - especially song and music
Churches have always been places of song. Hymns and worship songs are Christian folk songs as they reflect the beliefs, spirituality and aspirations of the people in the pew. Pubs are places where popular music from jazz bands to Karaoke can be heard. Interestingly, both church and pub have been a launch-pad for music as well as battlegrounds and there has been an interesting relationship between pub and church in this battle.
1685-1885 was a popular time for the church band and singing group, often housed in a Church’s West Gallery. The ‘battle’ was at its height when the organ and then the robed choir became popular and bands and singing groups were eventually ousted. Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree provides an account of a village confronting these issues showing the depths of feelings that were aroused. A similar dispute in Little Walsingham in Norfolk was, literally, explosive. Some local people were so incensed that the arrival of a new organ sounded the death-knell to their singing group and band, that one Bonfire Night they crept into the church and blew up the organ.
The quality of music produced from these bands and singing groups ranged from very good to down-right awful. They could be a thorn in the flesh of the incumbent or they could be the bicycle of the liturgy. The sadness of their passing is that they provided a real link between the culture of the local community. They were as much at home singing and playing in the village pub as they were in the village church and they often played the same tunes and sang the same songs in both. Sometimes from their style of singing it was possible to guess which institution (pub or church) they had last visited. With the passing of these groups went a very strong link between the culture of the church and the culture of the village.
Pubs, too, have reputations for music and have had their battles in a similar way to churches. Some pubs are well known for particular kinds of music, live music from jazz bands and rock groups provide the staple diet of some. Musicians and groups have sometimes been ‘discovered’ after performing in pubs and they have gone on to glittering careers. Pubs have also been the womb of radical and anti-establishment music. The arrival of the Juke Box, the Disco and Karaoke have fomented another kind of revolution, similar to that faced in the Church by the arrival of the organ. People have voted with their feet (both in and out). However, the positive outcome has been that those who prefer particular kinds of music will take the trouble to travel to hear it which, in turn, encourages pubs to ensure that it is of a high quality.
3.Thanksgiving and grieving
There is a natural link between Pub and Church at times of thanksgiving and celebration. There is a well-trodden path between the two at times of baptism. When the priest has wet the baby’s head in the Church at Baptism, many parties will continue to ‘wet the baby’s head’ in the pub. So, too, it is not uncommon for wedding parties to meet in the local pub – sometimes, though not always, simply for coffee – before a wedding takes place even if the reception is held elsewhere.
I have already commented that post-funeral parties can be found gathering in the pub after the service. At the Church (or Crematorium) there will have been the formal thanksgiving and farewell, but the pub provides a context for an informal and more relaxed reminiscing.
Both pub and church are places of community. Research has shown that the prospect of community life is a prime attraction for people to attend church; faith will often follow on from this. So too, one of the reasons people go to the pub is to enjoy the company and community life there. Both provide food and drink.
At the heart of the life of the Church is bread and wine, the Eucharist, which sustains worshippers through life’s journey and in their engagement with life. Food and drink enable community to happen and be enjoyed in the pub. For some, the Eucharist flows out of the Church and continues in the pub. This is good and healthy because it is an example of the need for churchgoers to live Eucharistic lives outside of the Church and the local pub is a good place to start.
The Church’s link with the Community
While there is a close and specific connection between pubs and churches, both places which encourage community, such a connection symbolises the link between the Church and community in general. Churches need to be places where God is worshipped, faith is fostered and discipleship encouraged so that care for the other is exemplified and preached. This will release the motivation to engage with the community in which a church is located. Friends of Kent Churches, by your gifts which contribute towards the maintenance of the fabric of the Church, you help this happen.
Over the last few weeks, I have seen food banks located in churches, night-shelters organised from churches, a whole host of well-established charities which originated in churches, community celebrations organised from churches, unemployment drop-in centres run by churches. I have been out at night with street pastors, men and women drawn from local churches, who offer support and conversation to those who have been partying. While there will always be more that we can do, the Church is alive and well in Kent and active in her mission to the world.