The Church in the Market Place (by George Carey)

There are a lot of books in our ‘Christian’ shelves which we apparently picked up at church bookstalls, or perhaps bargain bins at bookshops. This is one of them; marked 20p on the inside, and in good condition, it’s the kind of book that looks interesting but which, as far as I recall, I had not read until just recently. The author is the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey - perhaps the name is what drew me to the book - but it was written back in 1984 when he had just left a post as Vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham.

‘The Church in the Market Place’ is an account of a major project of renewal and growth for this church, St Nic’s as it was affectionately known. At the start of the book, the author explains how he and his wife decided to go there, outlining some of his own spiritual journey.

When he arrived he found a staunchly evangelical Anglican congregation of the traditional kind, which was not attracting young people or new believers. He struggled with the old-fashioned style, the uncomfortable seating, the general inward focus - and the way the ancient building needed ongoing and expensive repairs to keep the roof in shape.

Gradually a vision emerged of a project that would make the church far more appealing to the local community. Set in the middle of the town, there were probably thousands of people who passed it each day - and it was felt that it should be open all week, with a welcome to anyone who wanted to come inside. Naturally such a project was expensive, and the proposal was rejected at first… leading to a year of renewal and rebuilding of the people, who are, after all, the real church.

The book is written in a clear and interesting style, recounting the author’s worries and his own growth in faith. He doesn’t over-spiritualise anything, nor does he preach - instead he lets the story stand for itself as a testimony to God’s leading and the astounding things that can be done if people are willing to pray and to listen.

It's not a long book, but it won’t appeal to everyone; there’s no high drama or any serious conflict, and I imagine that it’s unlikely to be of interest to anyone who is not a Christian believer, other than those who live in the locality or who have visited Durham and are interested in the story of St Nic’s transformation.

But if you like this kind of book, then I’d definitely recommend it. It's not in print but second-hand editions are widely available at a low price.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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