Researching Church, Gospel & Culture in the North of England
Together with Elli Wort, Nigel Rooms has been sponsored by the Susanna Wesley Foundation to research how the Christian faith is lived out in the North of England. He summarizes his project here.
What was the aim of the project?
Driven by a desire to engage with the realities of Christian faith lived out in the particularity of a distinct English region we spent two years researching the relationship between gospel and culture in Anglican and Methodist churches across the North from 2018-2020, sponsored by the Susanna Wesley Foundation.
How did you go about it?
Following a fairly traditional research methodology with a few innovative twists, such as using photographs to elicit reactions from focus groups, we surveyed a wide range of 18 churches (from 49 requests) and visited seven of them for at least 24 hours. This generated over 105,000 words of interview and other descriptive data which we analysed via manual and computerised methods. The churches we researched were defined as those where ‘something’s happening’ – since our original designation of ‘flourishing’ churches was deemed ill-fitting for the emergence of fresh but fragile religious life in the people coming anew to Christian faith in them.
What did you find?
We discovered a nuanced, somewhat ‘glocal’ but definitely ‘accented’ gospel. The accent is down-to-earth, honest, real, inclusive and vulnerable. Such a gospel transforms both the evangelised and the evangelists as it transverses and transforms the porous boundaries of these churches, their class divides, and the private/public split within them. Thus, Jesus, the embodiment of the gospel is imagined sitting next to us on the local bus while the Holy Spirit is visibly active centring people on Jesus who is both intimate friend and public Christ. The context of our churches is clearly ‘post’ nearly everything – industrial, modern, colonial and Christendom, but this is decaying ‘compost’ out of which fragile yet liberative new life is springing.
What happens next?
You can read more about the project in this executive summary. We envisage a research poster, seminar and workshop, two books (both a ‘popular’ and a more critical treatment) and other resources as the outputs of the research.