Following the dismal failure of SSG to revitalise the Cardiff branch of SPCK, City United Reformed Church have risen to the challenge themselves, joining forces with The Church in Wales to secure funding and draw up business plans for a new shop, scheduled for opening on Tuesday 22nd July 2008.
The Revd Dr Tom Arthur, pastor at City Church since 1988, describes what happened and subsequent developments in a letter published in early June by Mission Connections:
We’d had a book store here at City Church for several years, but it recently closed. SPCK (that’s Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) had been the resource for the mainline churches. About 15 years ago we took them in when they were no longer able to pay rising city center rents. We saw doing this as an important mission of the church.
The shop here managed to just tick over comfortably, but the SPCK chain as a whole struggled in recent years. About 20 months ago, they basically gave the chain away to a couple of American brothers who formed “St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust” and used the chain to promote the Orthodox communion. Having grown up Presbyterian, they were adult converts to Orthodoxy, and were enthusiastic, as adult converts to anything will be.
Despite their enthusiasm, their idea just didn’t work. Customers weren’t buying the icons which now filled the gift cabinets and the books on Orthodox saints that now filled the shelves just weren’t moving. Sales plummeted, and since suppliers weren’t being paid, they couldn’t get new stock. Last December, when our shop would have expected to take in £18k – £20k, they only took in £3,500. In January, they started closing shops.
Because of customer comments and the concern of denominational leaders, we had already been considering strategies for taking over the shop, as this shop here in Cardiff was the only resource like it for all of Wales. The elders proposed that I and our church secretary, Patrick (that’s “clerk of session” in Presby-speak) should explore our options. So Patrick and I convened a meeting of concerned people from across Cardiff’s ecumenical spectrum, and with the backing of that group we took the project on.
A press release dated 26/06/2008 from the Church in Wales explains further:
The key to success for this enterprise will be our ability to respond to the requirements of the broad, ecumenical church scene in Wales. We’ve sent out over 800 letters to churches from Powys to St David’s, and have received good input in response. We will be carrying everything from rosaries to zipped leather Bible covers, along with books and church supplies. We’re building a website at www.ctbooks.org.uk to publish reviews of what’s new and advertise special promotional offers. A scheme of partner churches will return 5% of purchases by church members to the churches who sign up for the scheme, and we plan special monthly evening opening hours for partner churches.
So a new mainstream ecumenical bookshop for Wales is finally here, thanks to the support of many encouraging voices and the expert advice of so many experienced colleagues. The shop will be open 10am to 5pm Monday – Friday, and 10am to 4pm Saturdays. We hope this shop will make a real difference in strengthening the churches, not just here in Cardiff, but across Wales.