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Happy Bands of Pilgrims?

Members of the Latin Mass Society are probably not best known for being the life and soul of the party. Their aims, as their name suggests, are for more use of Latin in the Catholic Church and, er, more Gregorian chanting. And, if their recent report on the popularity of the Church is anything to go by, they are not wildly optimistic about that either.

The number of baptisms in the Church today is less than half of those in 1964, they say. Catholic marriages, less than a quarter of those in 1968, and ordinations of new priests are now only a tenth of the 1965 figure.

Well, there you go. Sitting in a box with a priest who wants you to confess all your guilty little secrets, while the figure of a dead man impaled on a wooden cross glares mournfully down at you perhaps doesn’t appeal to everyone.

The Bishop of Shrewsbury is no more optimistic. Addressing 1,000 young Catholics at a recent five-day prayer festival in Norfolk (the Catholic equivalent of sitting in the mud at Glastonbury) he gloomily advised them that 4,000 churches may close by 2020, and Christians in Britain could soon become a minority.

On top of all this, in August, the Christian Post website announced that a study of pastors found that the clergy are at a far greater risk of depression and anxiety than those in other occupations.

What they need, obviously, is a bit of razzmatazz – a few hearty verses of ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’ maybe.

Meanwhile the happy-clappy, faith-healing, demon expelling, singing, dancing, tambourine bashing Pentecostals seem to be spreading like the plague. According to a report by the National Secular Society, there has been a 50 percent increase in the numbers attending Pentecostal churches in London since 2005.And it’s not only taking off in the UK.

In Nigeria some of the wealthier pastors rival the super-rich US televangelists. A recent ‘Christianity Today’ article entitled ‘Private Jets for Jesus’, gives details of four Nigerian Preachers each with their own private jets. One of them, ‘Bishop’ David Oyedepo, reportedly, owns three Gulfstreams and a Learjet worth almost 100 million US dollars.

So what is it that gets the punters flocking in and handing over their money? One ex-Pentecostal describes their attractions on his website. David Icke (yes, the man who alerted us to shape-shifting lizards) says he attended a Pentecostal Church from the age of 17 to 19.

‘The services were very emotionally manipulative’ he says. ‘They would lift us up and down with 10 minutes of loud, rousing music and everybody jumping up and down, punching the air and shouting, then 10 minutes of sad, reflective music with everyone crying, lying down on their faces weeping, lifting their hands and swaying slowly. And through all this, people rolling around, laughing hysterically, groaning, ‘speaking in tongues’ and shaking’. ... ‘They were hugely concerned with making you believe you were gonna get rich and get better careers, very materialistic’.

These are apparently the mysterious ways in which the Lord now moves. No more Latin, and definitely no Gregorian chanting. Unfortunately, says Icke, ‘The experience has left me very confused’.

The Times though (22 August), was concerned by a different aspect. ‘Too much religion can harm a society’s economy by undermining the drive for financial success’ it reported. ‘Religiosity may curb ever-needed economic growth but may also thwart individuals and cultures from making risky financial decisions’. But, it added, ‘Poor people can be happy with their lack of material wealth if they have religion’.

You have been warned.