Christmas is coming but will we go to church?

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

Being of the baby boomer generation I was 14 by 1960, enjoying school, dreaming of a future in journalism, beginning to realise there was a social life out there which I wanted to be part of.

Naturally my mother had other ideas and dancing, drinking and boys just had to wait. I was, of course, encouraged to go to church and I was a faithful Sunday goer.

By the time I was 18 I had stopped going regularly because my social life had suddenly taken over and a Sunday lie-in was a necessity if I was to get up for work on Monday morning. Soon after I moved out of the family home to live in accommodation in the town where I worked on the local newspaper. I stopped church altogether and only went at Christmas when I was back at the family home.

This week I read a headline that the Swinging Sixties was the starting point for the fall of religion in the UK that, in fact, Britain ‘is trying to become the first society in the world without religious belief at its core’.

The idea that the lifestyle young people like me adopted in the Sixties would lead to this fall in religion never occurred to me then as my generation danced the nights away to the Dixies, Brendan Bowyer, Joe Dolan and the many other fabulous showbands of the day.

My goodness there was even a padre for the showbands, Passionist priest Father Brian D’arcy from Co Fermanagh who was loved and revered by the bands and their fans alike. If he said a prayer on stage we didn’t mind. Wasn’t our love of the showbands was a religion in itself?

I only realised how detached I had become from religion when I met my future husband and wanted to marry in church. Around that time celebrity showbiz weddings in hedonistic London were never in church, but in registry offices and that seemed quite glamorous and edgy.

My generation was catching up with the times but, still, church weddings were popular here and that was the route I chose. To this day I still feel it was a good decision to make because, though I still don’t go to church, I’m certain that religion is part of my DNA and while many aspects of the Christian church confound me, I want to hold on to the bits of it which resonate with me still because life today is so difficult in many ways.

I cannot agree with Neil MacGregor who is beginning a BBC Radio 4 30-part series Living with the Gods which will trace ``40,000 years of believing and belonging’’ that nowhere more so than in Britain has Christianity been in decline and that we as a country are trying to become the first society in the world without religious belief at its core – that we are trying ``to live without an agreed narrative of our communal place in the cosmos and in time’’.

The change, he says, began in the 1960s and ‘‘it does mean we have changed very profoundly’’. He points, for example to the ritual of the Coronation which is steeped in religion and suggests people today would hardly understand that ``great, public, religious ritual.’’

There is plenty of evidence, of course, that church-going is in decline.

Churches have been closing over the years and those that are left are amalgamating with sister establishments. As many as a quarter of our churches are now commercial establishments, nursery schools or demolished.

A few have survived and turned into family homes. Is that due to less interest in religion or the desire, as MacGregor suggests, to become that first society without religious belief at its core?

Our newish irreligious society isn’t necessarily a happy, contented one. It is torn by seemingly irreconcilable problems which add daily to the difficulties of us all. On the other hand religion, in the past, subdued populations through control and fear. Could we really survive as a society without religious belief? I ask all this as we approach Christmas, the greatest of the Christian festivals which a majority of us will celebrate.

I know non-believers who insist on going to Church at Christmas.