Uncollected Rubbish, Bland Telephones & State Churches

My paper and cardboard bin was not emptied last month. I phoned Pendle Council to report it but was politely informed that because I hadn’t called ‘the next working day, I may expect a further delay’. I replied that, as their office hours were 9am -4.30pm, and I worked from 8am till 6.30pm, this had not been possible. Despite several more calls, the rubbish was not removed for another four weeks, which is when that particular recycling round would have returned anyway. So what do I do? If I’m not happy with the service, do I move to another district? Pay a private firm to take it instead? The local council has a monopoly on domestic waste removal; even if I did pay another provider to remove it, my Council Tax would not be lowered commensurately. Of course, I lodged a complaint, but six weeks later, no-one has bothered to follow it up. That’s one of the difficulties of state provision- the lack of competition allows shoddy service to flourish with seeming impunity. Do you remember the time time before Thatcher privatised British Telecom? There were two types of telephone available to householders- cream ones and black ones. Eventually, green ones were also produced. In 1975, they even came up with one that had buttons instead of a dial, a model that I still use. When BT had competition, however, both it and its competitors raised their games. Phone design is now so much better as a result.

If state monopolies hamper telephone development and waste collection, how much more religion? Congregationalism was in part a response to the state’s monopoly on English Christianity- the Church of England. Elizabeth I created a national church to which all would belong. Notionally, this sounds rather pleasant. But what if your vicar was a drunkard? Or a secret heretic? Or cared more for leisure than preaching or ministering to his flock? Or lived down in London whilst your tithes paid for his luxurious living? There was little you could do about it. The bishop’s court might discipline the very worst offenders, but they too were part of this nationalised religion, whose special interest was to see it strengthened and sustained.

From the time of Elizabeth, puritan ‘separatists’ broke away, founding their own, alternative expressions of church. They were fiercely persecuted of course, though enjoying a brief respite under Cromwell. The growth of congregational churches, and I deliberately use the lower-case c here to include Baptists, Quakers, Pentecostals and others, encouraged the Church of England to improve its offer.

As a Congregational pastor, it is in my interest to do a good job. Important theological reasons aside, (such as having to stand before my Lord to give account) self-preservation demands that I offer attractive fare to my congregation. Should I stop visiting, or preaching, or attending, they can either depose me or take their ‘custom’ elsewhere. On the other hand, a clergyman in the state church (more so in the past than the present, I admit) has a job for life regardless of his parishioners’ contentment with his ministry. 

There are many fine clergy in the Church of England whose ministries bless thousands, well beyond their parish bounds. But there’s also a number of time-serving sponges, which, like my soggy mouldering cardboard, offer little indeed. 

Postscript: An apology was received from Pendle Borough Council 26/10/18