Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Take-away and Eat: This is my Body.

We have a branch of Greggs within two hundred yards of Plumstead Rectory, which is more than they can say in Downing Street. In the cause of local loyalty I should add that nearer still is a branch of Greggs' lesser-known Liverpool competitor Sayers, but I am not a regular customer of either establishment, nor (unlike our political class) do I feel the need to pretend to be. Incidentally, if the Prime Minister is reading this in his report from GHQ, we were not fooled.

The products of Greggs and Sayers are not at all to my taste: greasy outside, suspect inside and fundamentally un-nutritious. You can see how the political class might feel an affinity.

Sadly this is one area in which the Church of England, normally so out-of-touch, is thoroughly inculturated.
The coffee in our cafe churches may be ostentatiously fairly-traded, and our granola muffins organic, but our religion does not always live up to this promise. Sadly this is not a particular criticism of the Fresh Expressions movement: the indigestible, lukewarm and spiritually unhealthy is sweating under the hot counter of our traditional churches too.

If we were to start cafe church here it would take a different model, and happily we are richly blessed with a variety of nearby eating houses. Kitchen supper at Plumstead Rectory on Monday of Holy Week came from KFC: a model of how the Church of England should be, with its strangely compelling white-bearded figurehead, strong and consistent central offering, and numinous air of mystery. What are the 11 secret herbs and spices? And are they, as rumoured, the same as used by the women at the Lord's burial?

The Tuesday of Holy Week (it's a busy week) saw us visiting Gr8. Another good model, Gr8 even has a name worthy of a Fresh Expression. The offering is Chinese, pizza and kebabs; all excellent. We at Plumstead Rectory are not usually fans of diversity in principle, and in practice diversity means often doing nothing well. But Gr8 draws inspiration from Rome and Nicea, as well as from from further afield, and the combination satisfies us in every mood. If KFC is a vision of an idealised Church of England, Gr8 is a church playing to its actually existing strengths. It is not fashionable (yesterday's music, to my delight, was Paula Abdul's Opposites Attract) but all the better for it.

But look along the street and the picture is not so pleasant. Too many times we have been disappointed by the Chinese with the unpleasant lavatories, the Indian that always looks closed, and the pub where the locals stare at strangers and children are not welcome. In some cases the fare is excellent (though not in the pub, where gassy modern lagers have replaced better and more traditional options). But there are no looks to attracts us here.

Is it any wonder that even from a street with so much food on offer, there are many who get in their cars and drive to find their nourishment. The extravagantly fiery promises of Burger King, or the prospect of being in world-wide communion with the successor of Ronald McDonald, these are attractive to some. But in truth the food is no better than that on offer closer to home, only the branding.

One thing is noticeably lacking: there is no good traditional English food to be had. Even in this district, where immigrants are relatively few, filling us with good things is a foreign mission.  Where are the tasty pies which will have us coming back again and again to feast on their rich gravy? Where is that excellent fish-and-chip shop which will make us look again at the riches we have been missing in our own tradition? Where are the faggots? We are sure there are plenty about, but advertising the fact is not encouraged.

We know the world is hungry for what we have to offer. But sausage rolls, hot from the shop or cold at the parish buffet, are surely not the best we have to give. Are our pasties still good enough to justify a VAT concession? And when will our churches be?

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