Page 4, 21st May 1965

21st May 1965
Page 4

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Locations: Rome, Canterbury, Paris


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Col. Robert Hornby

L0 0 K any day at the sprawling suburbs of our cities; reflect for a moment on the fact that in any one of

these suburbs not many more than 10 per cent of the people there are ever likely to cross the threshold of a church. Is there any one of us, thinking Christians. who must not ask: "How can the church reach out to all these people, to touch the hearts of even a few?"

And having asked the question, do some of us then shrug our shoulders and say in effect, those outside the churches must come to us on our terms, that we need make no effort to communicate with them?

If we do not say that (and happily many of us don't), if we accept that part of the church's mission is to confront the secular world, then we must acknowledge that in the whole field of communications the churches have still to make greater efforts. Publicity. In particular, must cease tts be a dirt y word, and the journalist come to be looked upon more as an ally than an enemy.

Today the national press, alone, reaches 90 per cent of the adult population. With the provincial press. more than 30 million newspapers go into British homes every day and if that is not enough, some 4,500 different periodicals are currently Oil sale.

As for radio and television. from audiences of ten to 15 million within Great Britain we can now reach out at a single transmission to audiences of 300 million using the Early Bird satellite. And all this is only a beginning.

The present Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Michael Ramsey) gave a clear lead to the Church of England in some memorable words during the course of his enthronement sermon in Canterbury Cathedral in 1961.

"Here, at home", His Grace said, "our mission means for the church, a constant involvement in the community: we shall strive to penetrate the world of industry, of science, of art and literature, of sight and sound, and in the penetration we must approach as learners as well as teachers." It is this spirit of humility, exemplified by the Archbishop, which is a prerequisite.

If the churches have much to learn about the secular world as well as much to say to it, then the journalist can he an effective link in this essential two way utiffic uf information.

The Church of England in fact has concerned itself with the problem of communications, particularly with regard to the press. for some time. Much pioneer work was done by the original "Press and Publications Board" between 1923 and 1950, even though the priority given to this work, when it came to sharing out Church Assembly money, was not very great.

It took nearly II years, the findings of the Grubb Commission (Sir Kenneth Grubb is Chairman of the House of Laity of the Church Assembly and a former wartime head of the Overseas Division of the Ministry id. Information), and a growing irritation over the way in which the church was being represented in the prese, to release sufficient money for an enlarged Church Information Office to be envisaged.

This came into being in 1960. following a Church Assembly debate during which members were given a picture of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. shivering at the end of a telephone, answering questions from the press. But Lord Fisher, as always, achieved his purpose.

The task was two-fold. First to build a bridge between those at the centre of church affairs and Fleet Street and second to convince the church itself of the need for a revival of public discussion of religion.

Although few journalists in

Fleet Street then acknowledged themselves as Anglicans, practising or otherwise fthere seem to be many more Roman Catholic journalists than those of other denominations, including at least two Editors of national papers) there were few equally, who by word or deed declared themselves hostile.

In the five years I was Chief Information Officer I met only one whom I could have labelled hostile to the Church of England. although many are still ignorant of its ways.

What the press wanted, in 1960, as it wants now. is a continuous flow of information about church affairs.

The press with few exceptions really does not want chatty paragraphs about clerical appointments, forthcoming Services or stories seeking free publicity to support fund raising.

In December, 1960. the press got a real news story—the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope for over 400 years. The historic rapproche

who was Chief Information Officer to the Anglican Church Assembly and Public Relations Adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1960 until March of this year.

relent between Archbishop Lord Fisher and Pope John in Rome, made headline news throughout the world-not least in England.

Editors had been confidentially briefed some days before the news was made public and complete secrecy had been maintained: confidence between the press and the Church of England was established. There was now a bridge, the question was who would walk across it'?

The creation of the Church Information Office in its new enlarged form, supported as it was by both the Archbishops and coming directly under the Standing Committee of the Church Assembly, provided the catalyst. Many churchmen seieed the opportunities which were offered to them to write or to speak about church affairs.

Coventry Cathedral gave a new impetus. Over 250 journalists and more than 50 cameramen were present on the day of Consecration and well attended press conferences, held since by the Provost, have become the order of the day.

The new Guildford Cathedral provided a focal point in the South. Hardly a day seemed to pass without a significant news story about the church appearing

somewhere and the Daily Express fur example (once declared most unfairly to he the anti-Church of England newspaper) gave John Redfern. an experienced reporter on church matters, the opportunity IA) report in depth.

The Daily Mail appointed Monica Furlong. A new group of journalists emerged who wrote with verve and a passionate sincerity about the churches. Above all the popular press, once reviled by churchmen. began to be more respected because it was represented by journalists whose siticerity and skill were beyond doubt.

Then two year; ago the Observer ran a scoop story by Jack Lucas headlined "God is Not a Daddy in the Sky." The following day every newspaper in the country ran extracts or commented upon "Honest to God" written by the Bishop of Woolwich. From an initial print order of 6.000 copies the number in print has risen to 750.000.

During the week of publication Harold King, the head of the Reuter bureau in Paris, sent mc the following cable: "Dear separated Brother you have had a busy day slop I thought Woolwich was an arsenal not a volcano stop".

With a journalist's perception he had chosen the right word— volcano. The greatest opportunities for communication were opened up to the churches: some were prepared and some were not.

The question that now faces all of us is whether or not we are prepared to continue to pay the price of providing information, for this is the only way to keep alive the dialogue. Furthermore to provide information, with no strings attached: to invite criticism from actions that are made public, rather than to try and live in monastic peace, through concealment.

If no efficient machinery for the dissemination of information is provided, if a church only thinly conceals its hostility toward the seeking journalist, confidence and goodwill soon evaporate. The press then cannot he blamed if it husks elsewhere for comment on matters of the moment, and only takes notice of a church story when it is thrust upon it by some sensational turn of events.

The Church Information Office of the Church of England with its interlocking departments of press, radio and television, photographic unit (including a library of 7,000 press pictures) enquiry centre, publishing house and bookshop, offers a comprehensive information service at the centre, probably the most comprehensive within the Anglican Communion. Editors had been confidentially briefed some days before the news was made public and complete secrecy had been maintained: confidence between the press and the Church of England was established. There was now a bridge, the question was who would walk across it'? The Church Missionary Society in addition to its public relations organisation, has a specialised film unit. Among other churches we find that the Methodist Church has probably the closest contacts with the provincial press. The Church of Scotland has recently overhauled its information services. Many Anglicans east envious eyes at the Catholic Enquiry Centre.

Nevertheless, most of these developments have only taken place comparatively recently and so much time and opportunity has been lost that no one church can now fill the gap. If we are drawing closer together seeking fields of work in which we can co-operate then surely here is one in which there is plenty of work to be d d We all have something to give each other. If each church added only one unit to its present organisation, or spent just a little more money on its existing information services, and stretched out a hand to the journalist, the television producer, the writer, the editor, the people whose job it is to communicate, then I am sure they would all come more than half 'way to meet us.

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