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The Local Church and Generational Change in Birmingham, 1945-2000

The Local Church and Generational Change in Birmingham, 1945-2000

Ian Jones
Volume: 84
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Local Church and Generational Change in Birmingham, 1945-2000
    Book Description:

    The ongoing debate about secularisation and religious change in twentieth-century Britain has paid little attention to the experience of those who swam against the cultural tide and continued to attend church. This study, based on extensive original archive and oral history research, redresses this imbalance with an exploration of church-based Christianity in post-war Birmingham, examining how churchgoers interpreted and responded to the changes that they saw in family, congregation, neighbourhood and wider society. One important theme is the significance of age and generational identity to patterns of religiosity amidst profound change in attitudes to youth, age and parenting and growing evidence of a widening 'generation gap' in Christian belief and practice. In addition to offering a new and distinctive perspective on the changing religious identity of late twentieth-century English society, the book also provides a rare case-study in the significance of age and generation in the social and cultural history of modern Britain. Ian Jones is the Director of the Saltley Trust (an educational charity), Birmingham.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-021-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Ian Jones
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. Map of Birmingham
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    In January 1968 the bishop of Birmingham, Leonard Wilson, wrote in his diocesan newsletter of the fresh ideas sweeping English society in the preceding years. Discernment was crucial, he argued, but a wholesale rejection of change risked quenching the Spirit of God at work in the world. Special wisdom was needed regarding relations between young and old:

    The problems of communication between the different generations … which exercise the minds of thoughtful people today, will always remain.… When we want to understand the people of other countries we know we must learn their language, and between the generations there is...

  8. 1 Birmingham: The City and its Churches
    (pp. 25-51)

    On 7 may 1945 Birmingham citizens breathed a sigh of relief as the war in Europe ended. With the formal announcement expected for some days, the Birmingham Post reported that city-centre crowds received the news ‘without excitement, almost, in fact, in a mood of complacency’. Soon however, flags appeared on civic buildings. Buses and tramcars were prepared for floodlighting. By evening, the mood became more celebratory: in Victoria Square a group of ‘mainly young people’ sang hymns, whilst nearby in Stephenson Place, others sang ‘the latest popular jazz tunes’.¹ Early on VE Day itself a ‘quiet, Sundayish air’ pervaded. Religious...

  9. 2 The Spectre of ‘Decline’
    (pp. 52-72)

    One of the most significant recent developments in the historiography of Christianity in modern Britain has been the search for new narrative frameworks which broaden the scope of debate beyond questions of institutional decline.¹ As John Wolffe has argued, ‘a rounded account of the history of religion in Britain … needs to balance the language of decline and secularisation with an awareness of continuity, adaptation and new beginnings’.² Nevertheless, declining church attendance remains an inescapable feature of the history of postwar Christianity. From around 40 per cent of the population of England and Wales in church on Census Sunday 1851,...

  10. 3 Church, Youth and Family from the 1940s to the 1960s
    (pp. 73-96)

    In 1965 Norman Power, vicar of the inner city parish of St John’s, Lady-wood, published a hard-hitting reflection, The forgotten people‚ on a decade of sweeping change in his own local community (where slum clearances had radically altered neighbourhood life) and in the nation at large. Citing Professor G. M. Carstairs’s description of the ‘“drab agony” left by the ebbing tide of Christianity in our land’,¹ Power argued that whilst the disintegration of local community life was one salient factor, ‘the main cause is the aggravation, by this disintegration, of the effect of the incredible indifference of many parents to...

  11. 4 Life and Worship in the Local Congregation
    (pp. 97-123)

    Whilst Christian identity, belief and practice have always meant more than merely churchgoing, and many late twentieth-century Britons considered themselves Christian without regularly attending church, it remained widely accepted that Christianity (as officially practised) involved collective religious observance. Since this congregational dimension has frequently been omitted from discussions of English Christianity in this period, this chapter seeks to put worship and congregational life back on the map, acknowledging both the wider cultural, theological and ecclesiastical influences on local churches and the way in which the congregation functioned as an important prism through which wider social and religious change was experienced...

  12. 5 Church and Neighbourhood: Four Congregational Stories
    (pp. 124-146)

    The duality of ‘Church’ and ‘World’ is an inherent source of tension within Christianity, and was no less so in the late twentieth century as Christianity became a more distinct cultural constituency within English society. One particular aspect of this which has too often been overlooked in general histories of the period is the changing relationship between congregation and neighbourhood, a sphere of life through which wider trends were often most immediately experienced. Individual congregational stories are brought to the fore as lenses through which to explore the impact of three major changes in the life of postwar Birmingham which...

  13. 6 Towards the Margins: Being Christian in a Pluralist Society
    (pp. 147-174)

    Reviewing in her sixties, the changes that she had seen during her lifetime, Sheila Robertson of St George’s, Edgbaston, reflected that

    An awful lot of earth-shattering things have happened on an awful scale – it’s a very different world from the one we were born into – even got married into.

    Interviewer: What do you think are the big … [changes]?

    The moral certainties. We grew up in a world where whether or not you went to church, there was still the basic framework – the Ten Commandments, I suppose … You knew where people came from, whereas now you haven’t a clue...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-190)

    Amidst the flurry of recent debate about secularisation and religious change in postwar Britain, comparatively little attention has been paid to the experience of those who swam against the cultural tide and continued to belong to local churches. This study, rooted in both documentary and original oral history research has sought to redress that imbalance through an exploration of church-based Christianity in postwar Birmingham. In exploring how churchgoers interpreted and responded to the changes that they saw in family, congregation, neighbourhood and wider society, an attempt has been made to begin to provide for the post Second World War period...

  15. APPENDIX Oral History
    (pp. 191-194)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-216)
  17. Index
    (pp. 217-226)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)