The Church of England is denying that it has sold out to corporate interests following the appearance of a cashpoint machine for a well-known bank and a Starbuck’s concession in the entrance of St Paul’s cathedral. “Whilst I concede that the timing might seem suspicious, there is absolutely no connection between this new commercial development and our decision to have those ‘Occupy’ protesters evicted from outside the cathedral,” a spokesperson for the Bishop of London told a press conference yesterday. “I’d also like to take this opportunity to emphasise that our decision to open a ‘pay and display’ car park in the space formerly occupied by the protesters’ tents was only taken after the eviction.” According to one senior cleric these developments are part of the Church’s radical new strategy for financing the maintenance of its ageing infrastructure. “Despite what people might think, the Church of England isn’t fabulously wealthy like the Roman Catholics,” Arch Deacon Horace Wibberly explained to The Sleaze. “Traditionally, we have had to rely on the charity of our supporters for funding and the sad fact is that it just doesn’t cover the upkeep of our magnificent churches and cathedrals. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of them aren’t modern low-maintenance buildings, rather they’re crumbling and draughty Gothic piles. To be quite frank, these kind of commercial partnerships represent the only viable way ahead in terms of generating finance.”

With church attendances falling and the recession leaving the remaining churchgoers with less cash to donate to the collection plate every Sunday, the church, Wibberly says, has had no choice but to look as to how they can maximise the income generated by their primes assets – their churches and cathedrals. “We have to be imaginative in our approach to raising funds. For instance, a lot of our cathedrals are situated in their own extensive grounds – how about turning them into pay and display car parks? After all, most of them are in prime city centre locations where parking is at a premium. St Paul’s is just the pilot for this particular scheme,” he told us. “It’s the same with the letting out of commercial franchises in the cathedrals. Following the success of the ATM and coffee kiosk in St Paul’s, we’re planning a whole range of similar concessions. We could have Tie Rack and Dunkin’ Donuts in the choir stalls, perhaps. Or maybe Greggs the Bakers in the cloisters!” The cleric also revealed that the Church of England was actively considering selling ‘naming rights’ to places of worship – the E-Sure Canterbury Cathedral, or Katie Price’s Church of the Virgin Mary have apparently already been mooted. “If it is good enough for football stadiums, then I don’t see why it shouldn’t be good enough for the house of God,” he comments. “It isn’t as if anything about such places of worship would change, other than the sponsors’ logos discreetly displayed in a few places.”

Critics of the scheme point out that the moves to commercialise the church coincide with the current Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to step down. “There’s no doubt that Rowan Williams, a self-confessed ‘hairy leftie’ would endorse such a crass commercialisation of the church,” opines leading theologian Dr David Shitzler of the East Acton School of Divinity. “These developments clearly represent a right-wing shift in the Church of England, as it cosies up to corporate interests. Let’s face it, with the financial sector wrecking the economy and throwing millions of people into unemployment, poverty and despair, it’s a perfect opportunity for the Church of England to do a bit of recruiting. Not to mention regaining some lost ground in the community through its charitable work, as public funding for welfare and support schemes is withdrawn by the government.” Whilst for Shitzler this commercialisation is betrayal of the church’s Christian values, for other sceptics it is merely further evidence of religion’s fundamental hypocrisy. “So the bastards are worried that they won’t be able to afford to maintain their magnificent cathedrals, eh?” scoffs militant atheist Professor Stephen Donger. “You’d think the Almighty would provide for them, wouldn’t you? But no, they instead have to resort to those bloody collections for the church roof fund and organise endless bring and buy sales!” Donger believes this collision of church and commerce is a match made in heaven – a metaphorical heaven, obviously. “Both capitalism and Christianity are peddling visions of a future paradise, telling the poor and down-trodden that their present suffering is necessary if they are to attain this paradise at some undefined point in the future,” he says. “Ultimately, the one lust feeds the other: religion gives capitalism a spiritual justification, whilst capitalism gives religion a concrete manifestation of its spiritual aspirations.”

Donger’s theories would seem to be confirmed by statements recently made by the radical right-wing cleric the Reverend Rick Graspler – who believes the latest reforms don’t go far enough – whilst addressing the Christianity for Capitalism conference. “If we want to get people back through the doors of our churches and turn a healthy profit, then we’ve got to start thinking out of the box,” he told the gathering of like-minded clergy last month. “Most obviously, we could be hiring out our cathedrals as event venues. After all, they aren’t being used all the time for religious purposes, are they? I mean, they only have two or three actual services day, at most. The rest of the time they’re lying idle, so why not lease them out for conferences – paranormal societies spring to mind as obvious customers – and art exhibitions – a few nudes tastefully displayed between the flying buttresses, perhaps.” Warming to his theme, Graspler went on to suggest that church premises could be offered as venues for live performances of dramas or modern dance. “Maybe we could even hold a ‘rave in the nave’” he chuckled to an ecstatic audience. “Us vicars could hand out ecstasy at the door (‘This’ll take you to paradise’), and supply bottles of Holy water to stop the ravers from getting dehydrated. Not only will we make a mint, but we’ll be getting the kids back into the church!”

Encouraged by the rapturous reception he was receiving, Graspler proceeded to outline an even more ambitious vision for the commercialisation of the church. “The fact is that we have to move with the times – we have to recognise that our congregation are actually consumers and treat them accordingly. They don’t want to worship in our draughty old Gothic piles, they want a shiny religious supermarket packed full of spiritual bargains,” he declared. “So if those old cathedrals and churches are proving too expensive to keep going, we should seriously consider selling them off as building land. Pull down the ramshackle old monstrosities and flog the land off to a supermarket chain to put up a superstore! Obviously, we’d include a proviso that each store included facilities for worship, but think of the slogans they could use as a trade-off – ‘Jesus Saves – But Not As Much As If He’d Shopped at Tesco’ or ‘Buy Six Loaves and Get Five Fishes Free’!” Naturally, Graspler anticipates objections to his proposals from traditionalists. “Now, I know what they’ll bring up – that business of Jesus throwing the money lenders out of the temple,” he says. “But the way I see it, as long as the new supermarkets don’t display any of those offers for low-interest loans, it’ll be perfectly alright.”