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Almost Nearly Famous January 18, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christian Book Trade.
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The Times, Saturday 16 Jan 2010 - The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street

The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street

It’s true: I’m almost nearly famous. Quoted in no less a paper than Saturday’s Times, p.100, in an article about the state of the UK Christian book trade, The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street:

Phil Groom writes a blog on the future of the Christian bookshop. He runs one himself at the London School of Theology which, despite having a guaranteed customer base, is still struggling. He believes the only future is for shops to be run in partnership with local churches as community hubs.

“Shops have got to be much more than just bookshops. They have to be destinations for community,” he says.

“We could ham up the guilt for Christians or local churches to get them to support us, but that would only work for so long. They have to realise that they need to work more closely with shops if they want to keep them.”

The article gives a good overview of the state of the trade just over two weeks into a new decade, looking back briefly at the SPCK/SSG bookshops debacle, then in more detail at the current crisis facing the branches of Wesley Owen left out in the cold when IBS-STL UK went into administration:

An online petition is hoping to save a store in Edinburgh, and in South Woodford, London, pledges of £31,000 have already been received to keep the shop open.

The manager of Wesley Owen in South Woodford, Dominic Stinchcombe, is in no doubt that even if his supporters can find the other £30,000, the trade as a whole faces a bleak future without radical action.

“If it was just keeping the bookshop going I wouldn’t bother,” he says, “but it’s the Christian ministry side of it. Many people use us as a kind of church. We are here Monday to Saturday. It might be new Christians moving into the area, or someone at the end of their tether who doesn’t know where to turn. We listen and pray with them all if they ask for it.”

Stinchcombe’s campaign has been lifted by direct support from the pulpit of local churches. The Rev Steve Clark, vicar of St Andrew’s with All Saints, issued a rallying cry during his Sunday sermon for people to support the “ministry” of the South Woodford shop near by.

“It’s not just a shop,” says Clark. “Often you can walk in and find staff praying with somebody. I wasn’t asking people to feel guilty about not using the bookshop, just asking them if they would like to support the vision. And the next day the first person walked in and laid down £1,000.”

People in the trade talk a lot about their shops as a ministry and a Christian presence on the high street. But the hard facts are that, like every other bookshop, Christian booksellers have been hit by the power of Amazon.

Stinchcombe insists that Christians will soon realise what they are missing: “You might be able to buy your books on the internet, but you can’t buy ministry on the internet.”

What we can find on the internet, of course, is an ability to campaign, connect and co-operate via blogs, facebook and twitter: Amazon might have cornered the online marketplace, but they haven’t captured the human spirit; and it’s that spirit — together with God’s Spirit — that drives us on.

You’ll find the petition to save the Edinburgh branch here: Save Wesley Owen Edinburgh; go on, sign it; and keep an eye on their facebook page for latest news.

More reflections on the trade’s future over on t’other blog: A Future and a Hope for the UK’s Christian Bookshops and The Future Shape of Christian Bookselling.

Christian Bookshops Blog: Wesley Owen Pages

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