Wednesday, 6 December 2006

St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust

My SPCK cartoon appears in this month's Christian Marketplace magazine, which is nice.

I've been keeping an eye on the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust / SPCK story as it intrigues me and I am interested to see what happens. It did not
surprise me to read that the Trust have instructed their shops not to stock the Koran, as they are not overly enthusiastic about the Muslim faith. It remains to be seen whether Christian denominations they also are not terribly enthusiastic about will be less represented or removed from the SPCK shelves.

The controversial 'St Stephen Foundation' website which talks about these dubious denominations in quite strong terms has now been deleted from the internet, although you can still see it via

One of the aims of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust which I hadn't quite noticed until now is to take over at least 47 redundant Church of England Churches, one for each of the 47 churches and monasteries St Stephen the Great built to celebrate his battle victories against the Muslims:

Perhaps of equal or greater significance to this great saint's life is that he built many churches and monasteries, one after each of his 47 successful battles against the Moslems, including many of the most beautiful monuments to Orthodoxy in the entire world.

This struggle for the Faith is being waged primarily by the acquisition of the "redundant" church buildings of the Church of England. In this, its second year, the trust has succeeded in acquiring fee title to its second magnificent church building (both are listed buildings). In the years to come, it aspires to acquire at least 45 more. I find this a fairly unsavoury symbolic gesture I have to say.

I find it all a bit sad as I remain a great fan of the SPCK bookshops themselves.

Update: Joe asked in the comments whether we should stop supporting the SPCK bookshops. My answer is no. I think we should continue to support SPCK shops for the following reasons:

• I think the good the shops and the books sold through them do outweighs the strange and dubious objectives of the owners.
• I want to support the staff, some of whom I know.
• I suspect that once this chain is gone it really is gone and I can't see anything similar replacing it. At least if we continue to support SPCK there remains the chance that it will be taken over by someone we are able to support more wholeheartedly.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

The SPCK takeover (continued)

Two good points in the comments from yesterday's post:

Are the shops safeguarded?
Well, yes and no. As Neil pointed out, the SPCK shops are only 'safeguarded' if people keep buying things from them, a point that I should have made.

Who are the people who now run SPCK anyway?
Joe did a bit more digging around than I did yesterday and came up with some interesting snippets of information on the St Stephen Foundation website, which seems to be linked with the St Stephen Trust, the people who have taken over the SPCK shops. Interesting beliefs listed on their 'Why Orthodoxy' page include:
• The Orthodox Church is the only true church:
• Since the time of Saint Peter, the Orthodox Church has remained unaltered with seamless continuity. Established in A.D. 33 at the time of Pentecost, it is the only church true to the Word of God, and therefore, the only one that offers true salvation and eternal life.
• Certain Christians, the precise identity of whom is uncertain (but they could be evangelicals or perhaps protestants generally), are going to hell:
• In the United States of America, people are flocking back to what they believe is Christianity but, in reality, they are being misled by false prophets - a blind man. They are persuaded to join "Feel-Good" churches where they are told they will be saved by making a donation and saying a few simple words. Unfortunately, many of these are "feel good" churches are established just to make the management rich, or where the minister actually believes his own message, they are leading poor misguided souls into eternal damnation - both will fall into the pit.
• The Roman Catholic church is not 'the true church of Christ':
• One hundred and fifty thousand souls convert or revert back to the Roman Catholic faith each year in the USA. In their misguided belief, they assume that this is the true Church of Christ.

As Joe says, how are they going to feel about stocking Protestant or Roman Catholic literature?

Saturday, 21 October 2006

The Orthodox take on SPCK

Orthodox charity St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust are to take over the SPCK bookshop chain, which you might remember from my campaign earlier in the year.

This is splendid news as it means the future of the shops has been safeguarded.

Thanks to Neil for passing on the news.

Friday, 5 May 2006

Comment from an SPCK employee

Father Richard, an SPCK employee has commented on my original post about the SPCK bookshops. I thought the comment well worth drawing to your attention:

Perhaps it is time for an SPCK employee to add a few comments. Firstly, thank you for this initiative, and for the chance to hear what people think of us. Yes, the SPCK Bookshops are an imperfect bunch, with their own idiosyncracies. We don't see ourselves as a chain because each branch is so different - it exists to respond to the needs of the local community. We all buy our own stock based on how we perceive that need. So it is hard to generalise about what SPCK keeps on its shelves.

One of the reasons that WO eventually realised that a merger was not going to work was probably because we were all so determined to keep both our breadth of stock and our ability to control our own buying. We exist to promote Christian knowledge in its rich diversity.

Yes, Amazon is hurting our business (although we also sell some of the more unusual secondhand stock on Amazon as well), but the time has passed to moan about that. The biggest problem SPCK has had has been that it simply doesn't have the money necessary to invest in developing the shops.

Yes, too many mediocre books are published - as shops we have to do some of the work editing out the dross without restricting our customers opportunities to find what they need. There are also too many Christian bookshops competing in a dwindling market. If SPCK is to survive then it must be because it is offering what is really needed.

I take issue with those who see us as just stocking populist titles on spiritual warfare. I've never stocked anything like that (we have a WO on the same street we can refer people to), but promote the likes of Robert Beckford, Gordon Lynch, Callum Brown, Timothy Radcliffe, Leonard Sweet, Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Shelby Spong, Tina Beattie and Elizabeth Stuart. The strength of a shop over the internet should be the ability to browse, to try something different and, hopefully to mix with other people with similar interests and differing views.

What worries me, as a bookseller and as a parish priest, is how much harder it is becoming to engage people in thinking about their faith, in exploring it, pushing at the boundaries, growing a deeper knowledge of Christ. Sales of good quality Biblical commentaries are minimal. Hardly anyone wants to really get to know the Bible in depth. All the stuff on 'new ways of being church' has stiffed as much as anything because many people aren't prepared to accept that the world has moved on. DVD material, with the honourable exception of the Nooma series, has been risible in its content. And the trouble with Greenbelt is that is only once a year!

Finally, the problems SPCK are having reflect wider problems in the churches. Too many of us are still stuck looking inwards. Yes, we have a big responsibility to our Christian communities but if we don't work hard on bringing the Word to the rest of the high street then we are not doing justice to the Gospel.

There is also a comment from Clive Wright, chairman of the governing body of SPCK in today's Church Times. I can't type it out in full as I need to do some work, but it includes:

May I make it clear that the trustee Governing Body of SPCK has taken no decisions about the future of its shops; the Society is a charity with a modest income that is insufficient to meet large operating deficits. We must therefore consider carefully the future of each shop, endeavouring to take account of our responsibilities to our staff, or mission and the wider Christian community. Our aim will be to preserve as many outlets as possible consistent with our limited resources.

See also Save the SPCK! and the SPCK song.

Thursday, 4 May 2006

The SPCK song

The 'Save the SPCK' campaign continues. John and (one assumes) the good folks from Sprowston have recorded the SPCK song! It is about 1mb. Fantastic.

Meanwhile at least 20 bloggers have added the SPCK cartoon to their sites, thereby indicating their support for the campaign. There has been a great debate in the comments section too. It pleases me that such a diverse bunch feel that they want to comment on this blog. I really do appreciate it.

I have added a 'Save the SPCK' category to the blog, so that all posts on the subject are in one easy to find place.

So, where do we go from here? I think we need some evangelists to take the campaign to new mission fields. Post your ideas here!*

*I am using a lot of exclamation marks these days. This is not usual for me. It is to convey my enthusiasm.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Save the SPCK!

The SPCK bookshops are on the brink of closure. So says a report in the Church Times.

"So what?" I hear you ask. Well, I think it is a shame. SPCK shops are, in many parts of the UK the only place where Christian books of a non-evangelical nature are stocked. This has got to be bad news for anyone like myself who is producing literature of interest to the broader Christian community rather than just the evangelical sector. It is true that at the moment I don't have a book and I'm not selling my cards though SPCK, but both of those could change (or could have changed) in the future.

I might add that it is not only SPCK who are having problems. Wesley Owen have announced they are to close their flagship store in central London. To quote their spokesman:

"Every time someone buys from Amazon, rather than from a bookshop, that is another nail in the coffin of a Christian retailer."

So, what can we do about this?
• Somebody could record a song.
• If you know a benevolent benefactor see whether you can persuade them to buy the SPCK.
• Support your local SPCK (though it may be too late for that)
• Join my one man campaign by adding this cartoon to your blog using this code:

Let's list the bloggers supporting the campaign.
Sam of Redwelly fame
Jack the Lass
Ian of the Youthblog
Neil "I will personally miss a friendly shop that actually changed my life."
Never conforming
Urban Army
Musings, by Miffy
Mad Teacher
the last burnt sienna crayon
Soprano Helen
The Days are Just Packed
Good in Parts
Deep Thought
The librarians tangents
robert marshall
think bubbles
Three Chord Wonder
Christian Bookshops - News
Of course, I could be wrong
The Complex Christ
A Curious Girl
Thoughtful Christian

Update: You can find all posts relating to the SPCK campaign by clicking the Save the SPCK category.