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Book Trade – A Tsunami of Bookshop Closures

January 28, 2012 15 comments

It has felt like a tsunami of bad news of late with so many Bookshop closures. The UK has lost 26% of its Bookshops since 2006 (over 400 outlets according to the Booksellers Association) and many of these are Christian Bookshops. This decline seems to be quickening with various shop closures announced almost weekly. Even the once-invincible Christian chains have succumbed, weighed down by high central costs and slow decision making: Scripture Union, The Church of Scotland, SPCK, Living Oasis and now Wesley Owen. I’ve written elsewhere that I believe the future belongs to a well-run and nimble independent sector. Have we simply gone full-circle?

The whole sorry saga of these closures came home to me as a bitter blow when I heard of the closure of Wesley Owen on Park Street in Bristol. This was originally the venerable ECL shop where I had cut my bookselling teeth in 1980 under the watchful eye of dear Alan Maynard, God bless him. The ECL Bookshop was originally opened in 1852 by Bristol’s famous George Muller and the building is still owned by the George Muller Charitable Trust.

I wrote on Twitter this week:

Sad times – iconic and memorable homes of Christian Bookshops have disappeared: Wigmore St London, George St Edinburgh & now Park St Bristol’.

Let’s remind ourselves of why we do what we do. My esteemed ex-colleague, Steve Bunn replied on Facebook:

‘What powerful ministries these stores and their dedicated workers had; there will be many when we get there (heaven) who will have come through their doors’. 

Our trade urgently needs the rationale for a new approach. The bulk of Christian bookshops, developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, were a response to what God was doing in the wider church. They embodied a strong pastoral thrust through staff with a vocational calling. Such shops are now often portrayed as outdated and outmoded with an elderly demographic. They are seen as disconnected from the Church and overtaken by changes and events in wider society.

It’s fashionable even amongst some Christians to decry and downplay the significance of Christian Bookshops but, make no mistake about it, where these shops have closed, they will be missed.

I believe that if Christian shops are lost from the High Street, it will be impossible to replace them. 

Yes, I accept that we do need to pose some important questions – what is God saying and doing today? What does the Church want? Where is the new market for resources? How does digital affect sales and delivery? Can we sustain the passion to remain as Christian ministries on the High Street? And if so, how?

Is there still a place for a Christian Resource Centre on the High Street? In my view, emphatically YES. Would a local community be worse off without a Christian presence on its streets? Again, emphatically YES. However, I accept that some ministries may need to be repositioned to serve God’s purposes today and we may need to build a new expression of Christian retailing through which to develop new local relationships. 

We need a fight back. We need to show why selling Christian material on the High Street has never been more important. Closures are insidious. They weaken all of us across the entire trade. It’s bad for Churches, it’s actually worse for our culture – Christian values should be at the heart of society, plain for all to see. It lessens the availability of prayer and pastoral advice in the community, it damages the visibility of Christianity on the High Street and it severely diminishes the reach of suppliers.

I know of what I speak. For Publishers’ to survive they need markets. They must maintain their print runs and they need a sales network. Already print runs are falling and sales (and margins) are simply not being replaced by the Internet or via digital networks. Gradually, publishers are recognising the magnitude of the problem that shop closures are creating. Just where is the required volume of replacement sales going to come from?

That elusive balance of mission and business is constantly shifting. The line continually needs to be recalibrated. My sense is that we once again need to regain the vision of what can be achieved through the ministry of quality Christian material. We may have strayed too far into the territory of mammon and lucre.

It’s not too late. Publishers can still support the Indy’s and what’s left of the Chains. I remain a retailer at heart. I’ve worked for a distributor and a publisher but always with a retailer’s instinct. Other publishers too are doing their best. Consistently, Lion Hudson and IVP have won accolades for their support of the trade – and deservedly so. To my mind, the mantle of the original OM STL has transferred to IVP. They have built on that all important sense of deep concern and support for the ministry of Christian literature. CLC continues to plough a steady and significant furrow in UK retail.

It’s not too late for all suppliers to give retailers a better deal. Sometimes it’s more about their tone, not discount. Some give lip-service to supporting shops but go headlong and unfairly into chasing other markets. Retailers aren’t stupid, they know when they are being strung along and unjustly treated.

As I was contemplating this post, I listened to this moving song by Don Moen. I feel it’s apt for our present situation:

‘You are brighter than my darkest night, stronger than my toughest fight
Just one touch from you my King, my Friend and I’ll never be the same again’. 

 Soli Deo Gloria

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Photography – Images of England in Winter

January 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Review – ‘A Glimpse of Jesus’: Brennan Manning

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I first came across Brennan Manning as the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel. I came quickly to the conclusion that it was worth reading anything by him. I rate him highly.

In my view, his writing is up there with Richard Foster, Philip Yancey and Henri Nouwen, helping us make sense of the complexities and yet the utter simplicity of the spiritual life.

This little book, A Glimpse of Jesus is no exception. This is a small book and it should be easy to read through in one sitting. It’s not. It’s hard-hitting and therefore tough to read. Each paragraph requires thought and invites action. Spiritual writing of this quality is often quite unsettling, challenging as it does our preconceptions and long-held views.

Brennan Manning is a Franciscan Catholic but his understanding of the major Christian traditions is pretty wide-ranging although somewhat centred on his North American roots. He is clearly no fan of the moral majority nor of right-wing Evangelicalism!

Richard Manning came from a dysfunctional family. He became a monk and then took the name Brennan. His life is full of what many would consider to be failings; he was an alcoholic and he experienced divorce. But it is these very ‘failings’ that give his writings both humanity and compassion and which have led him to his main message: ‘God loves you as you are – and unconditionally’.

Read some of it here for yourself, in this, a small flavour of the book:

‘The habit of moralising spoils religion. Personal responsibility to an inviolable moral code replaces personal response to God’s loving call’ p9

‘Salvation cannot be earned or merited but only humbly and gratefully received as a loving gift from the Father’s hand’ p13

‘Christian freedom is the joyful acceptance of (an) unprecedented and scandalous reversal of the World’s values’ p27

‘Christianity is not about ritual and moral living except insofar as these two express the love that causes both of them. We must at least pray for the grace to become love’. p29

‘The love of the Father for His children plunges us into mystery, because it is utterly beyond the pale of human experience’. p45

‘There is a beauty and enchantment about the Nazarene that draws me irresistibly to follow Him.  He is the Pied Piper of my lonely heart. It is not pious prattle to say that the only valid reason I can think of for living is Jesus Christ’. p49

‘It’s a tired cliché, a battered bumper sticker, an overused and often superficial slogan but it’s the truth of the Gospel: Jesus is the answer’. p50

‘The Christian’s warmth and congeniality, non-judgemental attitude and welcoming love may well be the catalyst allowing the healing power of Jesus to become operative in the life of an alienated, forlorn brother or sister’. p65

‘Whatever else it may be, prayer is first and foremost an act of love … born of a desire to be with Jesus … to really love someone implies a natural longing for presence and intimate communion’. p83

‘Why the symbol of the crucified Christ? Because it is an icon of the greatest act of love in human history …the Christian should tremble and the whole community quake when contemplating the cross on the Friday we call Good’ p90

‘With time slipping away like sand in an hourglass, the church has no more urgent priority than proclaiming the values of Jesus, preparing the way for Him, and restraining panic when He appears on the scene’ p101

‘When we ‘put on Christ’ and fully accept who we are, a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing and human respect develops. Christ’s preferences and values become our own’. p111

‘When the Crucified One says, ‘I’m dying to be with you’ and then whispers, ‘Will you die a little to be with me’? my sluggish spirit is stirred’. p114

‘The cross of Jesus will ever remain a scandal and foolishness to discriminating disciples who seek a triumphal Saviour and a prosperity Gospel. Their number is legion. They are enemies of the cross of Christ … Jesus ministry was a seeming failure, His life appeared to have made no difference. He was a naked, murdered, ineffectual, losing God. But in that weakness and vulnerability, the world would come to know the love of the Abba of the Compassionate One. p139

‘The Glory of Christ lies in this … He has called forth disciples to come after Him … they are ‘marginal’ people, not part of the scene, irrelevant to ‘the action’. In their ministry of quiet presence they do not need to win or compete. The world ignores them. But they are building the Kingdom of God on earth’ p139

‘If you call Jesus Goodness, He will be good to you. If you call Him Love, He will be loving to you; but if you call Him Compassion, He will know that you know’. p145

In so many ways, this is a beautiful book – in sentiment, content and sheer grace.

Here is the contrast between authentic faith and legalistic religion. If you too have failed, in whatever way, then this is the book for you, pointing you to experience God’s ‘lavish, indiscriminate and unconditional’ love.

A Glimpse of Jesus

Brennan Manning

HarperOne : 2004 : 145pp

ISBN 978-0-06-072447-4

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