Aside from a handful of shops, there are two places considered ‘open’ on Christmas Day in England, at least: Churches and Pubs. The former, a place where humanity responds to the mysterious Deity, and the latter, is a place where humanity responds with one another. One, a place for loving God, and the other, a place for loving one another. No official association whatsoever, but very much of interest to me. As someone fascinated by local culture, both foreign and domestic [to me], the question I have in response to the observation that churches and pubs are the only two places open on Christmas Day is: why? Solely from two articles about churches and pubs, and my own experience, I hope to offer some sort of reflection for anyone interested in what it means to love God and to love one another.
Both churches and pubs have felt the negative impacts of rapidly changing dynamics caused by politics, culture, and as of late, the reeling effects from Covid-19, the cost-of-living-crisis, and the war in Ukraine. BBC recently shared results from a census in 2021 that reported, ‘for the first time fewer than half of people in England and Wales describe[d] themselves as Christian.’Contrastingly enough, the number of people who identify with ‘no religion’ increased. This does not necessarily mean that less people are Christian, but it does say something, not everything, about the results of a post-Christian nation.
With at least England and Wales identifying less with Christianity and more with ‘no religion,’ I think there is a unique observation here, in the form of another question: Are people finding satisfactory results in Christianity in England and Wales? The results of this census would beg to differ, and like the authors say, a person ticking ‘no religion’ does not mean ‘not religious.’ Has Christianity in the 21st century, in England and Wales, failed to proclaim the life-changing transformation found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Further, what does this mean for other expressions of Christianity in the Western hemisphere, like say, America?
Will denomination have a significant role in the future building of Christianity in England, Wales, and any other country/region that is post-Christian? What is it that distinguishes Christianity from any other religion? Does the Church know how to answer this question, and others? These are important questions to ask, but we [the Church] can’t just spend the majority of the time trying to answer these questions. To do so would be to ignore the second commandment of Christ, to love our neighbor as ourselves. We answer these questions in practice of loving God and loving one another. Fortunately, the British pub has figured this out in a way quite possibly that the Church has not. At least, that is my experience.
Unfortunately, the British pub, as a sector within the hospitality industry, has felt the negative impacts of covid-19, the cost-of-living-crisis, and inflation, with pubs either struggling to get by, or by closing their doors for good. It’s quite dismal and sad, really, because a true British pub is a communal space for locals of different social classes to gather. Most drink, and some don’t. But, almost 99.9% of patrons ‘love’ one another, if ‘love’ is defined as acknowledging another person’s existence. For some of us, this could be life-changing, whether we admit it or not. At the end of the day, we’re all humans desperately seeking meaning and purpose, and for another person to acknowledge our existence in this world, it can really change our lives. It’s changed mine.
The history of the British pub goes back as far as 2,000 years ago, when Romans conquered and settled in this region, and established common houses for wine and community. The pub has been the cause of problems, as well as the antidote for problems. But, in my experience, there is nothing like a British pub. I don’t get the same experience with a coffee shop, a restaurant, or any pub that’s apparently been what I call ‘Americanized’ in nature. I can walk into my local pub and feel right at home, talk to someone I may not know and feel like I’ve always known them, and equally bring my family, to which they will be greeted with the same love. No one will ever convince me there is anything more authentic and genuine. What can the Church learn from the British pub?
You can find articles and books to feed the curious mind, but here is a short historical article that claims there are an estimated less than 40,000 pubs in England and Wales, a number the author claims as less than ever with the available data. It seems that in 2022, both churches and pubs have much more in common than given credit. The former, a place where humanity responds in song and word to a God, called Jesus Christ, who has come, died, and risen from the dead – a mysterious claim, right? He’s changed my life, and the reason I live in England is because of my relationship with him. Because of this relationship, the response of the Christian is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Most of the time, Christians have enough of a hard time loving one another within the Church, let alone those who don’t consider themselves Christian. Yet, the pub is place for loving one another.
I have more questions and thoughts I’d like to share, but I’ll close with this thought. The Church is a place designed for responding to Jesus Christ, in a unitive way. The most historic and sacred of worship acts is a meal: The Lord’s Supper, bread and wine. The Pub is a place designed for responding to one another, in a welcoming/hospitable way. What I consider is the most sacred act in the pub is acknowledging the person across from you, beside you, or near you, as you both come hungry and thirsty for more than food and drink.
Both places of love. Both places of community. One, a sacred place, and the other, a secular. Yet, the message of Christmas is that God, in Christ, came to humanity…the convergence of sacred and secular…and the Church celebrates the sacrament of Lord’s Supper as commemorating the presence of Christ. The pub, on the other hand, serves the secular of humanity’s needs: food, drink, and one another.
The sacred and secular.
Cheers and Christmas blessings to you.