Class conscious - Andrew Martin finds evangelicals lacking in taste
The snob in me doesn't like to see electric guitars or stonewashed jeans in church
I go to church about three times a month, usually to Evensong. I sidle in - often late - and sit at the back, like the bad boy I never was at school. I go because I find the whole process somehow beneficial, but it cannot quite oust my tendency to draft articles in my head during sermons, to read any engravings going . . . Or my class consciousness. For example, the attendance at Evensong is usually pretty threadbare, and you can hear how everybody sings. A man who often sits in a nearby pew has a confident bass, and I think: good school. I could well be wrong, though. After all, the Methodists were great singers and few of them received fancy educations.
The Church of England was once supposed to be "the Tory party at prayer". That was when there were sufficient numbers of people attending services for it to be worth making generalisations about them. True, I once saw a member of my local congregation carrying a copy of the Salisbury Review, which disturbed me slightly, bearing in mind the late Eric Heffer's remark: "Jesus Christ was not a conservative. That's a racing certainty." But most congregations of today seem a fairly random mix, like the people in a doctor's waiting room.
My churchgoing is partly an attempt to cut through the complications of my social position: I come from a proudly atheistic background (the words "And now the Morning Service" on Radio 4 were always immediately followed by the click of my father smartly turning the "off" knob), whereas my wife is Jewish.
I also admit to a degree of snobbery in my church attendance. The radical theologian Don Cupitt has argued in one of his beautifully written internet essays that John Betjeman would have been a lot less fraught in his declining years if he had picked some faith other than "camp Anglo-Catholicism".
But that is approximately my own preference. I don't like anything too low. I don't like to see an electric guitar in a church, or visual aids, or a lot of people in stonewashed jeans waving their hands in the air. I take comfort that there is a natural check on the evangelical wave in the Church of England: it can never encompass anyone with good taste.
There's a temptation to go "high" for the aesthetics and the reverence for history - to go all the way, in fact, meaning towards Catholicism.
But one thing I hold against the Catholic Church is that it gradually killed the sense of humour in Evelyn Waugh's novels. That Waugh converted out of pure snobbery is unarguable, and I think that goes for many Catholic converts. It is simply the ultimate fogeyism. No, I like my services pitched between middle and high, like The South Bank Show or the Daily Telegraph.
I often think that I prefer to be the only one in a church, and I seemed to have St Paul's to myself early one morning a week or so ago, apart from the woman at the till, and a handful of people attending Communion out of sight and earshot in a side chapel. If I'm on my own I can't be distracted by the dress sense, the accents and other social signifiers around me.
Then again, many of the services I attend require the saying of "the Peace", at which you have to shake hands with those around you. I dread this, but always enjoy the afterglow.
Going to church does work for me, in the sense that I become more outgoing, tolerant, more engaged with society for anything up to roughly an hour afterwards. Once, immediately upon stepping out of a church, I helped a man push his broken car halfway up a hill. It helped that it was a battered little Fiat. If it had been a large 4x4 with a copy of Tatler on the back seat . . . well, now, that would have been a test.