Invisible Divides by Natalie Williams and Paul Brown
Explores how we ensure church is a place for everyone - but is story based and not a comprehensive examination of class in churches across Britain
Invisible Divides - Class, culture and barriers to belonging in the Church
By Natalie Williams and Paul Brown
Reviewed by Moira Kleissner
The premise of this slim volume is that there “Invisible Divides” in our churches, which are not reaching “working class” people. However, this is not a sociological study based on researched data, offering solutions, but personal reminiscences of the authors’ own experiences. As such the insights into the lives of the two authors can make interesting reading.
Natalie Williams is part of the leadership team of Kings Church in Brighton/Bexhill and is CEO of Jubilee+. Paul Brown is on the leadership team of City Hope Church in Bermondsey. Three sections are covered by the authors in tandem; “Is class an issue?” “Different Ways we Think and Act,” and “Church Life.” These are explored through the authors’ life stories.
“Working “class and “middle” class are never clearly defined. It is presumed that the reader will know what the authors understand by these nomenclatures. There is no recognition of the variations in “working” class cultures in other parts of Britain. The basic premise is that the vast majority of churches and their leaders are “middle” class and that being educated implies people are automatically “middle class.” There is no research evidence as to how these conclusions are reached other than the personal experience of the authors who are living in southern England.
I was disappointed that the variety of styles and structures in British churches is not explored. Decision making is criticised for excluding “working class” people, but is based on Anglican/New Church leadership styles. Baptist and congregationalist models of governance are ignored.
I was disappointed that there was no mention of projects in deprived areas including Fresh Expressions, Small Churches Network, the Anglican initiatives reviving and growing churches on estates, small churches working in inner city areas, and in rural Britain. We do need challenging to look at church worship styles for inclusion, but there seemed to be much conjecture here without enough wide ranging evidence. Perhaps the New Church/Alpha models do need challenging to become more inclusive and here the book is successful in its critique.
For me the long Scripture sections with the “preachy” bits felt unnecessary in a book such as this. There were many stories of how God provided for the authors and their friends. Some readers may enjoy hearing these, but for me they were a distraction from the main theme.
I applaud Williams and Brown for critiquing the models of church that they know through their own experiences. There is the great merit in the book on this level. However this was not a comprehensive examination of class in churches across Britain. Nor did the authors offer any practical solutions for the problems they discussed, other than the church should change in order to encompass more “working” class folk, by following Jesus example.
However if you are interested in the stories of two peoples’ journeys from “working” class non-Christian roots to being in the leadership team of new churches in southern England, you will find this an interesting read.
Moira Kleissner is a retired Primary Deputy Head, storyteller, trainer and minister’s wife