Women make the Church go round

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

THE Church of Eng­land is fac­ing a ‘de­mo­graphic time bomb’ as the last gen­er­a­tion of ac­tive lay­women starts to die out. In The Re­li­gious Lives of Older Lay­women, Gold­smiths, Univer­sity of Lon­don so­ci­ol­o­gist Abby Day de­scribes how the fi­nan­cial and so­cial struc­tures of the Church are kept from col­lapse by a shrink­ing band of com­mit­ted women who are about so much more than jam and Jerusalem, iden­ti­fied as ‘Gen­er­a­tion A’.

They are the par­ents of the baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and are the last gen­er­a­tion whose val­ues are fo­cused on na­tion, fam­ily and God, she finds. Un­paid, they have been clean­ing, cater­ing and fundrais­ing for decades, but are now en­ter­ing their eight­ies and nineties and there is lit­tle to show that they will be re­placed by new gen­er­a­tions.

‘Their loss will be cat­a­strophic,’ says Dr Day. ‘Ir­re­spec­tive of one’s re­li­gious view­point, it’s im­pos­si­ble to deny the role the Church of Eng­land has played in pro­vid­ing in­for­mal so­cial care, and a unique un­con­di­tional space for those who of­ten have nowhere else to go.’

The Madonna is de­picted serenely multi-task­ing in this tondo from the stu­dio of Bot­ti­celli (about 1480–90), cradling the Christ Child while read­ing a de­vo­tional book. The paint­ing is part of the Fitzwilliam Mu­seum’s ‘Madon­nas & Mir­a­cles’ ex­hi­bi­tion (un­til June 4, www.fitz­mu­seum.cam. ac.uk) (Vis­ual Arts, page 106)

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