Comments: SPCK bookshop saga

He's been doing a good job on this matter. The SPCK has been sold to a group that just does not understand the basics of freedom in publishing, of a pluralistic outlook, and it seems to combine this desire for control with a set of unethical policies of control over staff.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 3 November 2007 at 4:42pm GMT

They also appear to have forgotten that their traditional market has been academic. There simply isn't an Orthodox equivalent of popular evangelical fiction, and without academic sales they are a dodo.

Posted by Merseymike at Saturday, 3 November 2007 at 5:58pm GMT

Can someone give some context for those of us not familiar with the geography, market or demographics of this particular bookshop?

What is/was the bookshop? What as loved about it? Why are souls concerned? What is at risk?

My button that gets concerned that avenues for communication are being choked is itchy, but I don't know if that is just overprotectiveness and whether this is a hypothetical that is not applicable to this situation?

Posted by Cheryl Va. Clough at Saturday, 3 November 2007 at 9:18pm GMT

Well this country is littered with Good News Bookshops which are full of, well very little at all worth reading. So there were bookshops that had a wide range of books called SPCK, some around cathedrals and some elsewhere. Then they started not to do very well. Then a charity with an agenda took them over, making sorts of promises that were in conflict with this charity, and soon after taking over they stopped selling the Qur'an because they said nasty things about Islam. Then they stopped selling some of the more challenging Christian books. It turned out that this charity was a front for Orthodox propaganda. Then it showed it can't run a bookshop in a library.

Perhaps we are being preservationist in this era of the Internet. I've just had posted two books on liturgy and one on anthropology and theology, from the some time after they were published market.

I just don't like censorship. I did once or twice go into a Good News Bookshop. The one in Hull used to have a second hand/ academic shelf or two, but not for long. In amongst them was a Don Cupitt book that I did not have. Obviously someone was not looking. I bought it and regarded it like a small victory.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 3 November 2007 at 10:34pm GMT

Cheryl, I spent a term at Westcott House in Cambridge in 1996, on exchange from my TEC seminary, and I practically lived at the SPCK shop there. They had everything I had ever wanted to read, and things I hadn't even known I wanted to read! They had books for people, whether Christian or not, and for Christians who wanted to exercise their God-ordained brains to be exposed to all sorts of points of view. They had Bibles in English (as opposed to U.S. American!). They had all sorts of non-book kinds of things that made me just want to browse for hours. And when my worship team's turn came to design and put on the liturgy, I could find just the right candles and other things we needed. I loved that shop. I am angry as hell to have SPCK systematically trashed. I grieve to think that the next time I'm in Cambridge, my SPCK will be gutted, figuratively if not literally.
That's my answer to your question. Hope it helps.
Lois Keen

Posted by Lois Keen at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 12:57am GMT

it's another example of hard-line evangelicals asset stripping worthwhile concerns and then seeing them die. the c of e is just taking longer to plunder than the rest of their targets, but then the c of e has lots of assets to get through so it takes longer. it's tragic that the custodians of those assets allow reform and other vandals to get away with it, on the grounds of inclusivity. time for liberals to fight for what we value and to stop rolling over and letting people destroy us.

Posted by poppy tupper at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 3:30pm GMT

"it's another example of hard-line evangelicals asset stripping ..."

You can't blame evangelicals this time though!

Posted by Neil at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 4:54pm GMT

if you saw the fear in the eyes of the staff...they look like the inhabitants of an occupied country. Who let the shops go...did they sell all the properties...there needs to be an inquiry. These Orthodox bods are going to destroy this business.

Posted by Robert Ian Williams at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 5:51pm GMT

Lois, I'm afraid the Cambridge shop is indeed in a bad state. The stock is greatly diminished, and there are virtually no books on a display table to browse. The staff are friendly, of course, but they cannot do much under the circumstances. A great shop (this one originally a branch of Mowbrays) and one that Cambridge will really miss if it goes. We do have a Wesley Owen which I have been in a few times, but as others have said, they are really catering for an almost entirely different market.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 8:04pm GMT

While studying theology at a Jesuit university in Europe, I shared with one of my professors that I was going to England to study for several months. He suggested that I seek out the SPCK bookstore and spend time there. As I survey my personal library, the majority of scholarly books on my book shelves were all published by SPCK. SPCK out of business? So sad.

Posted by John Henry at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 9:05pm GMT

Its the bookshops rather than the publishers which is out of business, I assume.

I think that a problem might be the decline in theology as a subject which has lessened the demand for academic texts. And of course, the fact that many use the Internet for the purchase of books these days

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 11:03pm GMT

I think that the issue is a little wider than "academic" books in the strict sense of volumes aimed at university or theological college students or lecturers.

The SPCK bookshop with which I am most familiar is another ex-Mowbrays outlet, the Birmingham shop. Until recently, this shop was managed for many years by David Stokes - no point in being coy about his name, since David is known to just about every Anglican in the midlands - who had worked for the shop, through all its changes of ownership, from joining as a teenaged assistant until retirement. David's own position was firmly Anglo-Catholic, but he has always stocked a wide range of material including in recent years material strongly supporting the ordination of women, although he remained opposed to this innovation.

The same would, I think, be true of just about evry SPCK bookshop, irrespective of the theological position of the manager. If the shops move away from this tradition it would be a tragedy. I am baffled by the decision of the new owners not to stock the Quran. Necessary reading, surely, for anyone who aims to convert Muslims?

Posted by Alan Harrison at Monday, 5 November 2007 at 6:59pm GMT

When SPCK closed in Manchester (many moons ago) a wonderful new shop called St Denys set up (I forget the actual chronology) in the Corn Exchange which is now going strong in its own premises.

I encourage a Christian entrepreneur to back them in setting up a branch in Cambridge. There can never be too many bookshops in Cambridge in any case, and there will soon be a massive gap in the market for a serious retailer of academic and other Christian books. There are loads of properties on Kings' Parade which keep changing hands - or if that's too pricey start on Mill Rd and move up.

Posted by John Simmons at Monday, 5 November 2007 at 8:31pm GMT

"It turned out that this charity was a front for Orthodox propaganda."

This may be a little unfair: most Orthodox I've spoken to here in Oxford know very little of the St Stephen the Great Charity (SSG), and have even less sympathy with their kind of approach. The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, for example, is much more representative of Orthodox activity in England, and represents a long tradition of Anglican-Orthodox co-operation.

The SSG charity seems to have some association with the Romanian Orthodox Church (St Stephan the Great was a great Moldovan warrior-prince and is revered in Romania), and Metropolitan Joseph Pop, Romanian Orthodox Archbishop of Western Europe, serves as a trustee and consecrates their churches.

That said, I wonder how much the Romanians really know about the activity of this group - it doesn't appear that any priests have been appointed to their churches, and the Brewer brothers pursue bizarre interpretations of the Church Canons, such as forcing their employees to work on a Sunday. More here:

Posted by Matthew B at Tuesday, 6 November 2007 at 1:42am GMT

"Necessary reading, surely, for anyone who aims to convert Muslims?"

Well, to judge by some statements made here, knowing about a group before one preaches to them is not only unnecessary, but downright dangerous.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 6 November 2007 at 11:48am GMT

There seem to be two issues here:
(a) poor treatment of staff, especially part-timer staff and introduction of USA management styles alongside this change (ie pouncing on customers with a greeting within 1 minute of their arrival in the shop)
(b) a specific "orthodox" agenda (although I suspect Anthony Bloom would turn in his grave) with a cut back on the broader range that SPCK used to do.

The Good News Bookshop over here doesn't even sell N.T. Wright or Rowan Williams. I wonder how restrictive the "new look" SPCK shops will be?

Posted by Tony at Tuesday, 6 November 2007 at 2:41pm GMT

SPCK Bookshops did their best to support as broad a spread of the Christian community as they could. They aimed to be meeting places for Christians of all denominations and at all stages on their faith journey. They were under-resourced and struggling to meet the needs of the C21. But they were prepared to stock the sort of challenging material that we need for theology to keep pushing at the boundaries of faith, society, existence.

Huge ongoing losses needed a radical solution. SSG offered just that. However, they have reneged on written agreements to uphold the breadth of stock and they have treated the staff appallingly.

The worst of it is, there is no reasoning with the Brewer brothers who run SSG. They are simply right. It is impossible to have a discussion with them. They have an agenda and they're sticking to it. As it unfolds that agenda becomes more and more frightening. The remaining shop staff find each day scary and those that escaped are still licking their wounds. I could give details, but am afraid of running out of space...

Posted by Pax Vobiscum at Thursday, 8 November 2007 at 4:47pm GMT

I greatly regret the demise of SPCK shops, having frequented them all my life, and for a time been manager of the Brighton shop before it relocated to the Chapel Royal. ...When it was up all those stairs, endless cuppas for puffing elderly canons and sacristians come for candles, incensce and wafers---plus all the books ---of course ! ...

Mm 'Protestant shops' is both an ignorant and impolite / deliberately provative, description of these wonderful emporia (of yester-year, it would seem)

Fanatics & bullies everywhere--it would appear....

Posted by L Roberts at Friday, 9 November 2007 at 7:19pm GMT

I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy and am very saddened by the problems at SPCK. A year ago, I entered the Salisbury branch to try and find a copy of "Daily Light". The kind lady behind the counter said they didn't stock them but offered me her own copy instead! A small, lovely, aged hard back. I have met many Orthodox in the British Isles - both cradle Orthodox and converts - who have been immensely kind, sensitive people who are not "fundamentalists." I do so hope the problems at SPCK will not colour people's views of the Orthodox church in Britain. There is light and dark everywhere.

Posted by Jessica at Monday, 12 May 2008 at 2:58pm BST

A sad episode in the history of Anglican publishing. Surely the C.I.O could, at least try, to set up worthy successors in Lonmdon, Cambridge, Oxfor, B irmingham 7 Manchester. Sounds ambitious - but, be brave.

Posted by David Browning at Friday, 19 September 2008 at 11:38am BST
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