Could a religious revival save Croydon from itself?


By - Tuesday 13th October, 2015

Jonny Rose recommends an injection of faith for Croydon to avoid going the way of Burton Upon Trent


Regular readers of the Croydon Citizen will know that I have little time for say-what-you-see type lamentations about Croydon. Bring me solutions, not problems.

The most recent example of this was Paul Dennis’s article last week that profiled his childhood stomping ground of Burton Upon Trent, a midlands town whose local economy has “had the stuffing knocked out of it”. Dennis warned of a ghostly town centre that no longer sees footfall pick up during lunch hours and where after-work socialising is almost non-existent, suggesting that the same malaise could befall Croydon, too.

He’s right, you know (and the reasons which have been expertly set out in less elegiac terms by Citizen Editor-in-Chief James Naylor here), but beyond remaining hostage to fortune from central government or relying on the ongoing efforts of Croydon Tech City, what can Croydon realistically do to avert this?

A Friday night exchange with Citizen editor Liz Sheppard-Jones in this vein saw her jokingly posit “a mass religious revival” as the answer to Croydon’s problems. As Shakespeare said, many true things are spoken in jest; I didn’t disagree, and think it prudent to explain why.

What is religious revival?

In its simplest form, religious revival (of the Christian sort) refers to an increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or society, marked by distinct characteristics, with a local, national or global effect.

The most notable examples in the west, include the First Great Awakening (1727-1750) and the Welsh Revival (1904-5). The William Cowther hymn has popularised the idea that “The Lord moves in mysterious ways”, however when it comes down to good, old-fashioned revivalism the mechanics of such a phenomenon are devoid of any mystique: faithful preaching of the Gospel, transforming its audience – at scale – whose lives subsequently manifest the kind of significant changes that affect the character and timbre of their immediate area.

The cultural effect of religious revival

When large numbers of people are brought into conformity to Jesus Christ corporately the result is cultural transformation. During historic – and contemporary – revivals, people’s ordinary ways of life are often disrupted because society simply cannot continue to maintain itself in the way that it had formerly.

The First Great Awakening in England resulted in Sunday school and educational reform, changes to labour and child welfare laws, significant prison reforms, and the abolition of slavery. During the Welsh Revival, the culture was said to be so transformed that new mules had to be secured to work in the coal mines. The old mules would not respond to miners who no longer cursed and abused the animals. Revivals in England, America, and other places have historically shaped those nations into Christian communities.

Changes are not merely behavioural or political; they can be physiological, too. Preacher Jonathan Edwards made an interesting observation concerning the physical condition of the community during the Awakening. He wrote:

“It was the most remarkable time of health that ever I knew since I have been in the town. We ordinarily have several bills put up, every sabbath, for sick persons; but now we had not so much as one for many sabbaths together. But after this [i.e., after the revival lifted] it seemed to be otherwise”

And of the Welsh Revival and the remarkable effects it had on the society, revival historian J. Edwin Orr also noted:

“Drunkenness was immediately cut in half, and many taverns went bankrupt. Crime was so diminished that judges were presented with white gloves signifying that there were no cases of murder, assault, rape or robbery or the like to consider. The police became unemployed in many districts. Stoppages occurred in coal mines, not due to unpleasantness between management and workers, but because so many foul-mouthed miners became converted and stopped using foul language that the horses which hauled the coal trucks in the mines could no longer understand what was being said to them”

Whilst the proprietors of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club and Tiger Tiger may not thank such a renewed religious preponderance, I’m sure that the beleaguered managers at Croydon University Hospital would welcome a reduction of inmates.

The Protestant work ethic is real

Let’s return to the contention that spurred this line of thinking: the threat of Croydon becoming an economically barren dormitory town.

Well, if you want a capitalistic boom in your dormitory town, you could do worse than to listen to the counsel of German sociologist Max Weber and to go where Christianity is reviving. A critical mass of winsome, graceful and confident evangelicals who live and work in the area and contend for the faith would be every bit as economically significant to Croydon as a new Westfield.

So, if you’re serious about preventing Croydon from becoming a dormitory town, listen to this short Gospel presentation, recant of your sins, put your faith in Jesus Christ, and join me at Grace Vineyard Church on Sunday morning. Although the material naturalist in you may baulk at the idea, academic, historical and experiential evidence seems to suggest that religious revival is certainly a lot more effective than moaning about wealth inequality on Twitter.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • moguloilman

    Sentiments reminiscent of the pre-war movement “Moral Re-armament”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Re-Armament

    I rather like it.

  • lizsheppardjourno

    Heaven for scenery, Burton for company ;)

  • Sean Creighton

    I seem to remember that in the Bible Jesus was so angry about the money lenders in the temple that he took direct action against them; i.e. he did not tolerate a group that helped to create inequality. If you do not understand the causes and nature of problems you are unlikely to come up with the right solutions. We need people who articulate what they see as the problems as well as people who can come up with solutions. Dialogue between the two groups helps help the former improve their understanding and the latter to try and make sure their solutions actually address real as opposed to imagined problems. A religious revival is certainly not what we need. There are too many divisions within each of the major religions. All a revival will achieve is yet more competitive and silo religious organisations. What is needed is a humanist revival as humanism emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith. It needs to be based on concepts of non-sectarian social justice, inclusiveness, understanding, non-racism and non-hate, and community and workplace solidarity. Above all we all need to strive to accept that what we want is not necessarily going to be what we get; that negotiated compromise is sometimes the only way forward. A new situation then requires analysis using ones principles and values to decided what the strategy is and the tactics to be used.

    • Liz Sheppard-Jones

      Well said indeed, Sean Creighton.

      Setting personal respect and liking for individuals aside, the re-religification of public space is an abhorrent notion, to me personally and to many others, and will meet with resistance without end whenever and wherever it is attempted. It goes without saying that such a thing is the answer to nothing. Indeed, the task of placing religion where it belongs, in the private sphere alone, where individuals are of course free to act and believe as they wish without abuse or interference of any kind, is very far from finished.

      • Stephen Giles

        And if the current Croydon Council were to get hold of this one, I dread to think how much more of of our Council Tax would be wasted by idiots, like the £200,000 just frittered away on the fairness commission report!!!