For some reason, when I read http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/denominations-join-for-service-1-7200699 a week or so ago (and after I had stopped laughing) the phrase ‘Dead Church Project’ came to me.
I was laughing at the odd idea that a report and photograph in which I note one ‘faith leader’ who is banned from his town’s chip shop for virulent sexist abuse and another who, a decade ago, was the lead suspect in a police inquiry into creepy, silent phone-calls made to a dying man could ever cause me to consider Churches Alive in Mann as a source of moral authority.
As for that odd phrase – I may have been thinking of the Dead Media Project, which began back in 1995 and ran for about a decade. At a time when the internet and other IT-related multimedia phenomena were just taking off, cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling made a proposal to catalogue obsolete and long forgotten communication technologies. It was a lovingly done (if slightly tongue-in-cheek) attempt to list a long list of media failures, collapses and hideous mistakes.
‘Failures, collapses and hideous mistakes’ would certainly be one way to summarise attempts at Christian unity on the Isle of Man. But as the report is based on a highly subjective and exclusive account, rather than fact, a quick summary might be in order here.
Churches Together In Mann was an attempt by well meaning church leaders to muddle along together, which quickly hit the rocks due to both the ugly sectarianism and racism of new Christian residents and attempts by some participants to turn it into a shortcut to government funding. Early participants told me how, for example, two non-conformist ‘faith leaders’ first tried to ensure Catholics were excluded altogether and, when this was over-ruled, used to ring ahead to check if the Catholic priest was expected. If he was, they phoned in a long list of non-negotiable demands but refused to attend. In turn the Catholic priest (himself no shrinking violet) got so tired of such cretinism that he never attended if the non-conformists were going.
Things got even worse when fringe Christian groups such as Christian Scientists and Spiritualists asked if they could join. Fearing that membership would ‘legitimise’ such groups and threaten the shortcuts to government funding, an attempt to brief the Manx media about the alleged chicanery of the new applicants followed.
For example, concerns were raised about spiritualists preying on vulnerable, ill or recently bereaved people. These would have been fair enough were it not that the Anglicans had just appointed a ‘Minister for Spiritual Healing’, having discovered that services where sick people were prayed for could bring in new churchgoers who, while never going away healed, at least felt comforted enough to drop paper money into the collection.
Then things got even worse as more people of other faiths came here, and suggested that maybe a body like the Interfaith Forums seen in the UK was needed, or that at least other faiths might be represented in Education Department consultations about Religious Education. At this point the faith leader who, by both archaic Manx law and tradition, chaired both the Religious Education Advisory Committee and Churches Together in Mann, informed civil servants that it was not necessary to seek views from non-Christian believers on the Isle of Man because they did not exist. This puzzles me, as two of them participated in a vital operation on me a few years ago, so if they do not exist the disappearance of my gall bladder really is a miracle.
Thanks to those non-existent surgeons, and the inevitable feeling after life-changing surgery that petty things and swivel-eyed fantasists are just not worth losing sleep over, I am not inclined to worry about increasingly fewer deckchairs being re-arranged yet again on a sinking ship. As some of my other posts suggest, it is no longer the intransigence of local religious fundamentalists that concerns me. My real worry is that, as faith-based prejudice withers away on the island, it is being replaced by newer fairy stories which excuse newer witch-hunts and crusades against dissenters, thinkers and minority groups.