Sunday, 30 October 2011

St Annes, Underwood Road, Tower Hamlets, 23.10.11

We are all starving African children in need of spiritual nourishment according to the Reverend of St Anne’s Roman Catholic Church. Inspired by the latest Oxfam poster campaign with its images of impoverished children our Reverend drew an unintentionally offensive and grossly insensitive comparison to the real famines within the developing world and the plague of atheism in our own. I like a creative metaphor or an exaggerated analogy but the Reverend’s use of Oxfam’s startling images of poverty to sell his God instead of raising funds was beyond opportunistic and verging on the exploitative. Should I expect better from the Catholic Church? They did manage to colonise half the world in the name of charity. I think my shock came when it was declared that this Sunday was Mission Sunday but the service lacked any clear charitable aspirations. The only form of social outreach advocated by the Reverend was that members of the congregation should invite a stranger to church. The Catholic church seemed to think that as long as everyone repents we will not need to raise money to fight the famines, floods and plagues of Armageddon because we will all be safe in heaven. Christianity is so entwined with charity it can be hard to distinguish the churches who really want to help and those who actually need help (i.e more recruits).
Christians want to save people but also many outreach programmes are not interested with ramming God down ones throat instead are wisely more concerned with force feeding the needy with something more essential, like hot food. Fine examples of Christian outreaches in East London that do more practicing than preaching are: The Whitechapel Mission Church established in 1876 as a soup kitchen for destitute lads but has developed into a Methodist outreach programme that provides domestic facilities for the homeless; showers, clothes, counselling, postal address, legal advice, everything but a home.  Similarly Acorn House is a rehab centre run in the grounds of and by the parishioners of St Leonards of Shoreditch. Also St John at Hackney turns the church’s the grand oval nave into a winter night shelter from October to April. I have been less impressed by the Alpha Course or Street Pastor programmes which are not geared to a specific local community or church but alternatively run on a more corporate level with cost charges for their volunteers. The larger corporate outreach programmes seem to focus on the needs of the volunteers over the needs of the client and therefore appear tokenistic not fulfilling a Jesus Christ level of masochism. It’s essential that Christians give back to society but it seems a never-ending debate on what is the most appropriate form of charity. Catholics have obviously decided that the only thing we need to give is the word of God and here lies the accusations of corruption, greed, and hypocrisy.
A Catholic service is an exercise in obedience but also a charitable act. When the congregation pray for forgiveness and receive the Holy Sacrament the congregation are playing a well-rehearsed role of guilty sinner seeking mercy and love from The Almighty. The ritual cannot be changed as it determines the relationship of power. Unlike the more celebratory evangelical services that raise the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist’s set formula creates a clear separation between God and his followers. Catholics hold the most rigid of church services and clearly see the body of Christ as all the food you need to eat on this Earth which would be admirable if the Roman Catholic Church was not the richest in the world. Not that you need to travel to the Vatican to see the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church even in the low, run down areas of London’s East End, you can see wealth peppered around the antique like architectural beauty of St Anne’s of Bethnal Green.  
I counted 38 stone statue angels in varying sizes within the nave, 24 rogue heads overlooking the arched windows, approximately 12 Marys carved from the finest stones, 44 candle sticks, 36 golden and 8 iron, a blinding number of lights, 14 potted plants, a marble gothic altar of saints and angels and a hoard of adornments so luxurious I could not imagine their names. All of these treasures were contained in a 1850s chapel made out of Kentish rag stone with a large rose window over the rustic wooden front door. Every brick and piece of stone inside and out you wanted to smash to see if it was filled with gold. The buildings collection of timeless religious paraphernalia made it feel outside clear modern economic distinctions. Call it age, maturity, history, the church’s opulence felt priceless or is it? A listed building with various antique decorations gave the impression of something greater than grandeur, a place of divine spiritual significance however that’s what the Catholic want you to believe when in reality the church and its many treasures could be used to raise funds for more worthwhile causes.
The Reverend seemed to forget that Jesus did not require followers by preaching that he was the son of God but by performing acts of charity that provided for others and did not benefit him. Arguably the wealth of a church depends on the faith of its followers and despite the grandeur and glamour of Catholicism its money is non-transferable to charity, yet there is no larger or more powerful religious institution in the world. I find it sad that in the poorest areas of the world many will swallow the word of God because they are hungry for food but in the richer society we eat the poor as if they are food in the hope it will bring us closer to God. We eat them as news stories for our papers and TV programmes, as charitable causes for our outreach programmes, and as illustrative victims for our own agenda. We never eat them for who they are but for who we want them to be.


  1. Thank you for a strong and clear message - to Christians, clergy and all.

  2. the catholic church is not the richest in the world, it is the poorest, at least here in america. catholics give less money to their church than people in any other religion. the average catholic gives less than one percent of their income to their church compared with over 2% for protestants and over 8% with mormons.

    so in other words if you had a protestant church and a catholic church , both with the same number of parishioners, the protestant church will have more than twice as much money.

    this idea that the catholic church hoards its money is so obviously not true i wonder if you could have typed this post with a straight face. look at all of the charity it does ( a ton) and then the charity protestant churches do ( barely anything at all on the whole even thought they have more than twice as much money.)
    the catholic church runs almost 50% of the private schools in america even thought it is a protestant country and it runs 16% of the countrys hospitals.

    so the catholic church uses what little it has to honor god by giving him great places of worship and obeys him by giving the rest to the poor and needy.

    by the way the Vaticans budget is $500 million a year. their are 1.1 billion Catholics in the world. that means that the vatican collects an average of 45 cents a year from each catholic. if this great wealth is "hypocrisy" then what would not be hypocrisy. if 45 cents a year is to much what would be OK with you?