Friday, 30 November 2007

St Stephen the Great video

The following video outlines the aims of the St Stephen the Great trust and features some of their projects.

A direct link to the SSG YouTube page is here.

Please note (for anyone who has happened upon this post): The video above does not represent the views of the writer of this weblog.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Religious Bookshops

[Click on the image for the full sized version.]

This is the cartoon I did for the Church House Bookshop late night shopping event. The image is a bit off-colour as it is taken from a photograph of the original which is A1 size. The shelves on the left, by the way, say 'charismatic worship' at the top, and 'prayer' at the bottom. The shelves on the right say 'high church' at the top, 'middle of the road' in the middle and 'low church' at the bottom.

I may well do a version for the Church Times but if so I will redraw it. I forgot to label the 'extreme browser' who is clambering over the shelves. Not that I drew it in a hurry you understand. Thanks to the various people who supplied ideas, especially commenter 'Jaded for Jesus' who sent me the 'kneeling for prayer' gag months and months ago.

On the subject of bookshops: I don't have a lot to report on the SSG shops front. Christian Marketplace have a report here: The SSG saga goes on. Unfortunately there seems to be some problems with paragraphs dropped out of the online version - I'll contact Clem in case it's a technical glitch.

There are some quotes in the article with which I do not agree, as you might guess. I can't really say more though as it is all a bit close to home.

SPCK have, since I last wrote, updated their news page with the following:

Bookshops: a statement from SPCK

SPCK would like to emphasize that they do not own, manage or otherwise run the Bookshops which transferred to SSG's Charitable Trust in October 2006.

Saint Stephen the Great (SSG) was contacted by SPCK's lawyers in October 2007 concerning its use of the SPCK name for what used to trade as the SPCK Bookshops group.

In October 2007, SSG put out a release clarifying that from 1 November the bookshops
would be trading under the name Saint Stephen the Great.

The front page still says:

In October 2006, the SPCK Bookshops were transferred to another charity, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), who run them independently of SPCK.

SSG will not in future be using the SPCK name for these shops.

The SPCK name continues to be used in the shops - signs, bags etc.

Meanwhile on the internet the site remains empty, with links back to SPCK and the St Stephen the Great Trust site, which has been 'down for maintenance' for a week or so. It looks like they are designing a new site.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

SSG / SPCK latest

The shops saga has made a mainstream paper, albeit in a limited sort of a way. From the Guardian:
There's an unholy row in Christian bookselling, with an exodus of staff from the leading chain SPCK (the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge). Apologies for the religious puns, but they are hard to avoid when the company's president compares his shops to "the talents the Lord spoke of in the parable". To recap, a year ago a charitable trust took control of SPCK, whose 23 cathedral shops were struggling. But new owners St Stephen the Great (SSG) ran into trouble when they tried to impose a more orthodox stocking policy and ban promotion of the Qur'an. Staff in some branches such as Exeter resigned en masse. Now SSG wants to drop the 200-year-old SPCK name because the books released by SPCK's publishing arm are too liberal.

• An article I haven't linked to: Leicester SPCK goes independent - The Bookseller
• All is blank on the 'SSG Bookshops formerly owned and operated by SPCK' webpage
• Here's the blog of a former SPCK manager who has opened a new shop in Lincoln: Unicorn Tree Books Blog

One more thing whilst I'm on the subject. I'm having to edit or not post a reasonable number of SPCK / SSG related comments. This isn't necessarily because I don't agree with the sentiments expressed, as I often do. The problem is that some comments could be straying into legally dubious areas or they contain allegations that I can't substantiate. In neither case can I afford to take a risk on this as it will be me who carries the can should there be a can to be carried. I really don't like to have to do this, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

I'm aware that my comment policy isn't very clearly stated, something that I plan to rectify shortly. In the meantime if you feel that a comment that hasn't been posted deserves to be read there is nothing to stop you posting it on your own blog, or even starting one if you don't have one. Try the link I posted in the previous post about getting started on if that whole area is a mystery. It is possible, by the way, to stay up to date with what blogs are saying by keeping an eye on searches such as this one.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Radio interview with Mark Brewer

There is a radio interview with Mark Brewer on this Orthodox radio station in which he outlines his plans for the former SPCK shops. It starts about 9 minutes in and ends at 25 minutes in.

An excerpt from the show:
Mark Brewer:
"At that time it was an entirely Protestant chain serving mostly the needs of the Church of England. We have gradually, as quickly as we can - but it is a gradual process - been working to transform these into Orthodox bookshops. Our biggest selling item by the way is Bibles, and that was true before we took it over, so, you wouldn't call that Protestant obviously."

Let me ask you a question Mark; Any resistance to the introduction of Orthodox Christian books and material within this Protestant setting?

Mark Brewer:
There's been a substantial amount of resistance and it's manifested itself in a lot of ways that frankly I would not have expected. For the most part our staff has been supportive but not entirely, and we've tried to take their feelings and attitudes into account and approach this in a loving Christlike way, but at the same time Father we just don't feel comfortable selling theological books that are really what I would call inimical to Orthodoxy.

He goes on to talk about the banning of the Koran from the Bookshops, and then this about the Chichester shop:
England is so rich with the blood of the martyr saints. We have, just as an example: one of the shops that we have taken over is in a church - you're gonna love this Father - this church was built in the 11th century. It's one of the oldest buildings in the kingdom, and it's still standing in it's original form. It was dedicated to the saint King Olave who was (?) the invading Danes. He is the same person who murdered Saint King Edmund as in Bury St Edmund in East Anglia near the eastern shore of the country. Well we're in his church there selling books. The SPCK started that over 50 years ago, and we're now in the process of making a transition - it's a very small building but it's right in the middle of the heaviest pedestrian shopping area of the town of Chichester in southern England. And we're going to make this into a usable worship space for Orthodox worship, so that we can continue to sell books towards the back sort of like you might do in a parish church, but turn this building back into a church.

He then discusses imminent plans to buy a derelict church overlooking the Tyne in Newcastle and turn it into an Orthodox church.

Thanks to Ursula for the tip. As she says:
He clearly states that the intention is to make the shops "Orthodox shops" - for the Orthodox community. This interview took place on 27th October 2007 as far as we can

When is he going to announce that to the staff and also his plans for Chichester? Do they know?

Phelim McIntyre, former assistant manager of the Chichester shop, has posted these comments below:
Having spoken with people who know the Chichester situation this blog page is the first they will know about it.

The Chichester shop is a consecrated building. That is it is still a Church of England church, owned by Chichester Diocese. It is used rent free under a covenant dating back 50 years. An Anglican communion must take place once a year as part of that Covenant. The Brewers/SSGCT are responsible for the upkeep of the building, something neither they or SPCK before them did anything about. Because of this Mark Brewer can not just turn the building into an Orthodox Church. I know all of this because I was assistant manager at the Chichester shop and we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the shop just before I left.

I have been in contact with Chichester Diocese about this, and this blog was the first they knew about it.

To anyone affected who is reading - I'm really sorry you had to find out this way.

As recently as 8th May 2007 a special evensong was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Chichester SPCK bookshop. The Bishop of Chichester preached, and his sermon is here as a pdf (I'd link to the Chichester Cathedral website but it uses frames). A short extract:
I am glad of this opportunity to honour the fiftieth anniversary of The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in Chichester and the very distinguished service given by Barbara Scott over very many years. Not only have I benefited greatly from the bookshop itself and from Barbara's own expertise and knowledge and that of her colleagues, but I also have a rather personal reason for being grateful to be standing here today. Twenty-five years ago this year (when SPCK was celebrating its first quarter century in St Olave's Church) I was installed as Bursalis Prebendary in this Cathedral, a stall which had, not many years previously, been occupied by William Kemp Lowther-Clarke, long-time editorial secretary and distinguished historian of the Society.

According to its mission statement, SPCK exists
"to promote Christian knowledge
by communicating the Christian faith in its rich diversity,
helping people to understand it and develop their personal faith
and equipping Christians for mission and ministry."

Thursday, 8 November 2007

SPCK bookshops: the hidden music

The staff at the SSG (formerly SPCK) bookshops are forbidden from using a wide range of music at 'events', as this short segment from the new contract shows.

I think the musicians in our midst would be doing a service to the bookshop community if they were to come up with some music suitable for use at SSG bookshop events. These are my guidelines for such a composition:

• Singing looks as if it is OK, as long as it is done in a non-secular manner. The minute you stray into secularism you're in trouble.
• No rapping, but perhaps we could have some spoken words here and there like on old country and western records. You know the kind of thing.
• Drumming or percussion is out, unless it uses a piano. An odd but welcome exclusion clause. This loophole could I think form the basis of our composition - we could have a whole troupe of people drumming on pianos. I can see the video now.
• I've tried to find out what 'a-tonal' music is but failed. Beware of a-tonalism is all I can say. You think you can dabble in it, but it'll get you in the end.
• And you people who are thinking of using a 'boom box' whilst doing some dancing and singing operatically. No no no!

There may be a short break in transmission whilst some of us head off to the recording studio.

Leicester SPCK goes independent

Some good news at last. The Leicester SPCK Shop has gone independent. It will henceforth trade under the name 'Christian Resources' - the new website is here.

I found the following press release on the St Paul's Oadby blog:

SPCK Bookshop, 10 Bishop Street Leicester

We are pleased to announce that from the 1st November 2007 ownership of the SSGCT/SPCK bookshop in Leicester is transferred to Reverend Peter Hebden.
As a consequence we shall once again be able to emphasize the ethos of SPCK and will trade under the name of CHRISTIAN RESOURCES.

The address and telephone numbers remain unchanged but there will be an increase in the use of e-mails for facilitating credit accounts for parishes. Thus the preferred method of ordering, invoicing and statement production for parish accounts will progressively use e-mail thus dramatically reducing the amount of paper being used. There is no need to travel into Leicester just telephone or e-mail your needs.

We are determined to retain and improve this Christian resource centre by serving those whose mission is necessarily rooted in the parishes. For this to succeed and be a foundation for the future we would like all P.C.C.'s to consider if they can use our facility even more than they do at present.

Please contact us (by e-mail if possible) and allow us to open a credit account for your parish even if you may not use it for a while.

Tel; 01162854499 e-mail; peter at

Best wishes from Peter, Janette, Harriet, Alison and Helen.

Also this letter from the Bishop of Leicester, Bishop Tim. Once again thanks to Revd Simon (who incidentally I met at the Christian Blog Awards) on the St Paul's Oadby blog:

I am delighted to add my support and encouragement to this courageous initiative that Peter Hebden is taking to keep the SPCK Bookshop ethos and resource available to us in this Diocese. It is vital that we all maintain our reading and awareness of Christian issues and the presence of a high quality Christian bookshop at the heart of the Diocese is a matter of real interest to all Christians. We owe it to Peter to do our best to support this initiative and to ensure that it does not fail.


Well done to these people and to the Diocese for making this happen. If you are local please do publicise and support it.

Let us hope that similar arrangements might be possible in other Dioceses.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Durham Cathedral SPCK

There has been drama at the Durham Cathedral Shop, one of the former SPCK shops. This is the Press release from St Stephen the Great (thanks to Annie):

Mrs. Carole Burrows, manager of the Durham Cathedral Shop, has resigned her position, effective 31 October 2007. According to Mark Brewer, chairman and CEO, "Mrs. Burrows served the charity with competence and aplomb, and she will be greatly missed by the staff and customers of the shop." He said that the charity had agreed to transfer the operations of the Cathedral Shop to Mrs. Burrows and expressed regret that this had not gone through. Saint Stephen the Great's president, Mr. Phil W. Brewer will serve as interim manager of Durham Cathedral Shop which is the flagship shop of the chain. Meanwhile, qualified candidates are being actively sought and interviewed for the position of permanent manager. In 2006, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge transferred ownership of the Durham Cathedral Shop as well as 22 other shops to Saint Stephen the Great. Commenting on the Durham shop Mark Brewer said, "Saint Stephen the Great considers it a great privilege to serve as the 'face' of Durham Cathedral through our operation of the Cathedral Shop. We seek to be a part of the pastoral ministry to both the Cathedral's visitors and to the employees of the Cathedral Shop." Saint Stephen the Great is an Orthodox Christian lay charity. It aims to share Jesus Christ's love and saving grace in a society suffering from the stress of a modern world engulfed by secularism. It seeks to do this by distribution of Christian literature and restoration of redundant churches for Orthodox Christian worship.

However, from the comments elsewhere on this site, Pax Vobiscum gives a different view:

A press release was issued on 2 November 2007 by J. Mark Brewer stating that 'Mrs Carole Burrows, manager of the Durham Cathedral Shop, has resigned her position, effective 31 October 2007.'

He then goes on to say some gushing things about Mrs Burrows qualities (so true, she is a brilliant bookseller and caring person) and that the charity had agreed to transfer the operations of the Cathedral Shop to Mrs Burrows and expressed regret that this had not gone through.

HOWEVER - and you knew that was coming - this is not the case at all. Mrs Burrows, who was trying to work with her solicitors on a proper affordable deal to take over the shop - a deal instigated by the Brewers and not by her - was told by Mr M Brewer that she must either accept his deal (with no amendments) or clear her desk within the hour. As the deal offered was not affordable she didn't have much choice. That is not resigning - that is being sacked.

So, 2 members of the staff representative body who were trying to work with ACAS on legal contracts have now been booted out.

I think you will be hearing more about this story in coming days, if not hours.

Also from veritas in the comments below:

The Brewers say that Carol Burrows has resigned. I saw the press release. Carole says she was fired. Being told to "clear your desk and take nothing with you" does not sound like a resignation to me. Nobody who has spent time with Carole can imagine that she's a quitter. She stood up for part-time workers who were set, via the new contract, to become casual workers with enormous financial ramifications for them. And nobody should doubt that Carole has been anything but loyal to the SPCK cause. I'm left wondering why the Brewers need to be advertising for a new manager? Do they want another "yes boss" person in charge so that the shop can be further decimated and will that new person be on the forum discussing new contracts. Oh dear, I forgot! Durham is special isn't it - apparently whoever is in charge can delete the directives sent via e-mail to other bookshops because "Durham is the jewel in the crown." Well the jewel in the crown has books on the shelves face up rather than spine up so that the shelves can look full. Some jewel!

Some further news. Nigel Oakley launched his book, "Engaging Politics?" in the bookshop. By all accounts it was a fantastic evening thanks to the staff members who stayed behind after working hours without pay. It's what dedicated people do. Unfortunately, the bookshop staff could not order the book because the publishers had not been paid. Nigel had to buy copies himself and the bookshop had to pay him. This is no secret. Bishop Tom Wright told this to the synod members today. Bishop Tom is launching a book at the Durham shop soon. Wonder if he'll have to buy copies too?

I don't think this is the last we will hear of this story.

Surprisingly, given that it is 'the flagship shop of the chain', the Durham shop does not currently appear on the map on the bookshops page of the SPCKOnline site:

The red arrow is mine by the way. Oddly though it does appear on the SPCK Bookshops site. I've no idea whether this has significance.

On a related but probably less important note the web address was registered by the Dean and Chapter of Durham cathedral on the 29th of October just gone, perhaps because they thought the shop was about to turn independent. It is only being used for email thus far though - the web address doesn't bring up a webpage.

[You'll get these results if you put the domain into any domain registrar website (and have nothing better to do):]
Domain name:

The Dean & Chapter of Durham Cathedral

Registrant's address:
Chapter Office
The College

Onyx Internet Ltd [Tag = ONYX]

Relevant dates:
Registered on: 29-Oct-2007
Renewal date: 29-Oct-2009

Friday, 2 November 2007

SPCK reports (latest)

I'd like to keep SPCK and the places where it is being talked about at the top of the blog over the weekend, as it is what most people are coming here for at the moment. (Scroll down if you'd prefer an in-depth discussion on the subject of 'heaps' in 2 Chronicles, and scroll down further to advise me on my recent accidental purchase of a low quality folding bicycle.)

• My own blog entries: Save the SPCK
• Church Times report: SPCK rift widens: shops renamed; trustees resign
• Response to the Church Times report from the Brewers (printed on MetaCatholic): The SPCK saga and Texan "Orthodoxy"
• Bookseller article: Schism develops at troubled SPCK
• Ship of Fools thread: "SPCK" book shops
• Facebook Group: A group for all those people who mourn the tragic demise of SPCK Bookshops (Over 50 members in one day)

I'll add more if they become available.

• Clem Jackson of Christian Marketplace would like to talk to people who have knowledge of what is going on. I can vouch that he is a trustworthy individual who is not going to take your words out of context etc. His contact info is here.

• Someone asked in a comments thread below whether anyone has a SSG contract so we can see what has been going on in terms of that side of things. Well, I'm sure someone has, but not me. I'm not sure whether I or whoever gave me the said document would be in any sort of legal hot (or even lukewarm) water if I was to publish one. I suspect possibly so.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The future of the SPCK shops

From today (1st November) I understand that the SPCK shops will cease to trade under the SPCK name. I have had a report in the comments to a previous post that they will be trading as 'SSG'. I don't know whether that means as the letters 'SSG' or as 'St Stephen the Great'. We will find out very soon. I have been told that all SPCK logos and carrier bags (like the one above) will be removed from one shop, and therefore one assumes all of them, today.

Information has been hard to come by, but I really am quite surprised (actually very surprised) that no-one else seems to be reporting on this. As far as I am aware there have not, at the time of writing, been any media reports on this week's developments. (Update: There has since been more written elsewhere - see towards the end of this post.) A thread on Anglican 'Mainstream' has been posted, where, incidentally one poster wrote "it seems the Cartoon Blog has a less than 'orthodox' agenda about this issue?"

Lots of things are still uncertain. The main question is of course what is now going to happen to each of the shops. But I'm also wondering, for instance, what will happen to the website for the SPCK shops and the SPCK Online site.

It is clear from the comments here on the blog on the various SPCK posts that a lot of people feel very sad and angry about what has happened. Please spare a moment to say a prayer for those involved, particularly those who work in the shops. If you live near one of the shops why not pop in and, I don't know, take them some chocolate or something. Better than nothing.

My opinion is that those of us who can should continue to support the shops with our trade despite the uncertainty. If we don't then there really is no future for them.

One theme has come up a number of times in the comments: The SPCK Governing body have some very serious questions to answer about the way the shops were transferred to the new owners. As a first step the Governing body really should be making some sort of public statement about the immediate changes so that we know for certain what is going on. Silence isn't good enough here. In the longer run I hope that there will be some means by which some of the difficult questions can be asked.

I do have some information about developments in some of the individual shops, but I'm not posting information at the moment as (1) I have no way of verifying much of it and (2) I do not want to prejudice arrangements that may be being put into place. It is likely that some of these changes will become apparent very soon. If anyone directly involved would like me to make any developments known as they occur then please do get in touch.

There are doubtless some people reading who are wondering why I keep going on about this and wish I'd get back to posting nonsensical drawings. To my mind this is why it matters:

Why does any of this matter? Because the shops still employ some wonderful, talented people who are being treated very poorly. Because the shops were safe places for Christians of all denominations and people of no faith to meet, discover new and more challenging aspects of theology, discuss, debate and explore. They were 'fresh expressions of church' before the term was a cliché. Because many of our most thoughtful, dynamic and provocative Christian publishers would struggle to exist without the support from these shops. If they close, if their stock breadth is reduced, then informed, intelligent Christian debate will begin to be stifled in this country and new, challenging authors will find it harder to get their work published.

In short, the fall of the SPCK Bookshops means the triumph of knuckle-headed fundamentalism and a crushing of openness to the true, radical, empowering spirit of the living God.

To read all the posts on this site about SPCK from May 2006 until now click the Save the SPCK category. The various comments threads on the recent SPCK posts contain a lot more information than I've posted here, though I must emphasise that I have no way of verifying the accuracy of everything posted.

I will post updates on this post if there are any. I am away from the computer for much of the day so such updates and comment moderation may be slow.

Update: A Facebook group has been created - see the comment below.

Further Update: (1st November pm) The situation is confused. At least one Bookshop is operating entirely as normally, with the same signs, the same bags and the SPCK name given over the telephone to describe the shop. As has been pointed out in the comments the SPCK Online site is using the SPCK name in conjunction with the SSG one, describing them as the "Saint Stephen the Great SPCK Bookshops". I have no idea whether the top bods at SPCK have allowed this, but from the homepage it would appear not:

In October 2006, the SPCK Bookshops were transferred to another charity, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), who run them independently of SPCK.

SSG will not in future be using the SPCK name for these shops.

The link from the SPCK homepage to the SPCK Bookshops has been removed.

In other news, there is a thread on the Ship of Fools.

Additional Update: (2nd November AM)
Church Times article: SPCK rift widens: shops renamed; trustees resign
The Bookseller: Schism develops at troubled SPCK

Additional Further Update: (2nd November PM)
MetaCatholic has the text of a letter responding to today's Church Times report: The SPCK saga and Texan "Orthodoxy". They are unhappy with SCM-Canterbury Press.