Christianity England Online Articles

‘A Vicar’s Life’: Is this really a picture of the UK church?

A few things will be changing on this blog over the next three months when I am on sabbatical.  I won’t be giving it up but some of the regular series  will be stopping.  I will be taking a break from Light Engaging Darkness, Quantum of Solas and the St Peters sermons/news.   These will all hopefully resume in July.   I will be continuing with the Christian Today columns – the latest of which is below.

A Vicar’s Life:  Is this really a picture of the UK church? 

BBC2 has just completed a six-part series in a behind-the-scenes look at the state of the Church of England in rural Herefordshire.

It has been a fascinating insight that reveals the good, the sad and the ugly in much of the church in the UK today.

Vicars Life
BBC‘A Vicar’s Life’: The good, the sad and ugly.

The good: the four vicars are real characters. Rev Matthew Stafford, Rev Ruth Hulse, Father Matthew Cashmore and Rev Nicholas Lowton came across as lovely human beings, with warm and compassionate hearts and a desire to serve the people in their parishes. Their quirks and foibles only made them seem even more human. A large amount of what they do and how they live is to be admired although it would have been good to have a little more depth and analysis.

The sad: A Vicar’s Life was billed as how four vicars are seeking to fight against the decline in the church. The sadness is that there is no indication that they are succeeding or can succeed. The problem is that it all seemed so twee and meaningless. There was little mention of God, Christ or the gospel – it seemed to be about ritual, buildings and Christian social work. It may have been that the producers of the programme did not want to have the ‘religious’ stuff come across too strongly and that they edited on the basis of what they think their viewers would be interested in – personalities, buildings, and people’s problems. After all, Christ and his gospel are not considered to be interesting TV material by those who are not interested. Or it may be that the vicars concerned have fallen into the trap of seeing themselves as religious social workers, maintaining the fabric of the community (and the building) rather than bringing the gospel to a broken and confused world. It would have been interesting to hear what they thought the gospel actually is…

The ugly: Herefordshire is a beautiful place. The programme makes it look like heaven on earth, or at least like Tolkien’s Middle Earth version of England. It is the quintessential English countryside. But the programme showed the ugliness (as well as the beauty) of human nature. The consequences of poverty, broken relationships and misuse of God’s gifts were clearly evidenced. Such brokenness may be relieved by niceness, but it won’t be healed. Something more radical is required.

The image of the Church of England that is often epitomised in the phrase ‘More tea, vicar?’ was reinforced rather than challenged in A Vicar’s Life. It is an image of niceness, quirkiness and irrelevance to the people of this country today. The solution to the decline of the church is seen in the church doing ever more things that society considers valuable. Christian social work is valuable, but without Christ it can often come across as middle class religious do-gooding. A Vicar’s Life was nice, quirky and good in parts– but lacking in depth, power and radicalness. In that it reflects so much of the church in the UK today.

Ecclesiastes 6 – Life in the Shadowlands

After writing this review, one of the participants, Nicholas Lowton tweeted the following remarks – which I am delighted to hear:

I thought your review was more than fair. I am nervous about clergy being seen as untrained, unmonitored social workers. We have a gospel to proclaim, and that needs to be at the heart of all we are


  1. As a resident of Herefordshire I can confirm that it is indeed a beautiful place, but not without the issues you mention. Having watched the series I have to say that I drew similar conclusions. Too much of what the churches in Hereford (in particular) do is focused on the social work that you mention, but without lives being transformed through Jesus Christ. Daily breakfasts for the homeless (and a number who are not) along with Street Pastors, Family Pastors, lunches for the elderly, etc. are all well and good but I don’t see the church (or my church) making or building disciples, and that is a challenge we seem to neglect in favour of the social work aspect of church life.

    So what is the more radical? For the last few weeks I have been reading all I can find on the revival in the Hebrides. I find myself challenged about the burdens followers of Jesus should be carrying for the lost, and about the way that we pray (or don’t) as individuals and as churches.

    Have a blessed sabbatical. I really appreciate your posts and look forward to full service being resumed in July.

  2. David, have a good Sabbatical – a rest from (some of) your labours and a time of refreshment, renewal and above all a consolidation of your good health. I’ll miss your input – come back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *