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.

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