Sunday Sermon

Being Sunday, I figured we needed a sermon. Except it isn’t really a sermon: it’s the article I wrote for the August issue of Christian Marketplace magazine, but it was pulled at the last minute when Mark Brewer sent his friendly request to ‘Cease and Desist’. So for anyone who’s wondering why there’s no magazine contribution from me this month, now you know. Essentially the article is an introduction to this blog, written before Dave Walker’s situation blew up…

Another Christian Bookshop Blog

June this year saw the launch of another Christian bookshop blog: “SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info”. In the ideal world it’s a blog that should never have been necessary, but in the real world it should have been born much earlier. You’ll find it at but be warned: in the words of Neil Denham, an ex-Exeter SPCK employee, “some of the commenters are very bitter and it does not make very happy reading!” (

Alongside the bitterness you’ll find anger, a sense of betrayal, confusion and – perhaps most of all – grief: in short, the legacy left to the UK Christian book trade by Mark Brewer and his St Stephen the Great Trust. Mark Brewer himself (or, since we cannot be entirely certain of identities online, someone posting under his name [1]) has generously taken time out of his busy schedule to respond to the concerns of his customers, ex-employees and suppliers, offering the following pithy observations, both posted on July 6th, the eve of Steve Jeyne’s memorial service (reported on elsewhere):

In response to my call for a boycott of the SSG shops, Brewer writes, “What a great idea! Boycott! How very Christian of you” and, in response to the post “SSG tribunal claims mount”, he writes, “Now that SSG is in liquidation, you and your most of your readers must be elated… except whatever will you find to write about and who will you now slander?”

With respect to boycotting the SSG bookshops, my feeling is that a mere boycott is not Christian enough: Christianity is about following Jesus and the Jesus I read about in the Gospels had no qualms when it came to driving out unscrupulous traders from the temple. Jesus’ comment about turning a house of prayer into a den of thieves seems apposite in view of the Brewers’ record of unpaid employees and suppliers: I remain astonished that Durham Cathedral in particular continues to allow them – in whatever guise they now use – to trade from their premises.

With respect to SSG’s liquidation, a number of people have replied but this, from ‘Pax Vobiscum’, perhaps expresses best how many affected by the situation feel:

Dear Mark Brewer

The 600+ people who filled Worcester Cathedral on Monday for the Thanksgiving Service following the funeral of Steve Jeynes were not elated. They wanted to give thanks for a wonderful life of Christian witness, for a dedicated Christian Bookseller who had brought many to faith and for a husband, father, friend who meant so much to them. They were shocked, saddened, angry, but they were not elated.

The 100+ Christian Booksellers around the country who have had their careers, their ministries thrown in the gutter over the past year are not elated. They are upset, angry, struggling to rebuild their lives.

The myriad suppliers, who have not been paid are not elated. They are downhearted, some made financially unstable, others have lost an integral outlet for their goods.

The Christian communities which relied on their SPCK Bookshop as a resource centre for their mission and spiritual growth are not elated. Some, like Worcester, feel that one of their vital organs has been ripped out and stomped upon.

What has happened to the SPCK/SSG Bookshops over the last 18 months has caused so much needless hurt, so much pain, so much impoverishment of certain areas of the Christian faith in the UK that it is impossible to feel elation over the ‘bankruptcy’ of SSG. Only relief that this whole sorry episode is drawing to a close.

As well as updates on the ongoing situation the blog includes what should become a comprehensive index of news reports, blog posts and other related articles which should prove useful to journalists and other researchers.

If you are amongst those affected – whether as a concerned customer, an
(ex-)employee, a supplier or in any other way – please do take time to visit and join in the discussions: it’s an open forum which, I very much hope, will not only provide a catharsis but also help us find a way forward…

Phil Groom, Friday, July 11, 2008
679 words.

Phil Groom is webmaster and reviews editor of the UK Christian Bookshops Directory, a free online guide to the UK’s Christian Bookshops. Unless otherwise stated the opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Marketplace or its publishers.

Re-reading that, I honestly can’t see why it had to pulled, especially with such a very clear disclaimer on the end. There’s nothing there that goes beyond perfectly legitimate reporting and fair comment. What do you think?
Please note that no criticism of Clem Jackson is implied in this observation.

1. See: SSG/SPCK – Will the real Mark Brewer please stand up? Metacatholic, 17/07/2008 and The Mark Brewer Saga: weirder than you think, MetaCatholic, 03/08/2008. My parenthesised comment is part of the original article as written and submitted to Christian Marketplace on 11/07/2008.

10 responses to “Sunday Sermon

  1. Oh, the Marketplace denied the opportunity for me to have my name in print!

    While I was working for SPCK there was nothing on Dave Walkers blog that was untrue from my first hand experience, I have no reason to believe anything untrue was said after I had resigned either.

    It seems to me that Mark and Phil Brewer have always hated free speech, from the banning of shops and managers being able to email (and latterly phone) each other, to the setting up of the “Virtual Office” which could have been a great transparent way of parts of the charity being able to communicate with one another, but in reality was another way for peoples opinions and ideas to be censored by management.

  2. But Neil, how can you say such things? The words of the Great Man Himself:

    “Thank goodness that we have this one, last bastion of free speech – the Internet. The internet, in particular, is the only truly free “press” we still have.” (As cited here). Amen to that, Mr Brewer.

    And for the record: it’s not Christian Marketplace that prevented you getting your name in print: that responsibility lies with Mark Brewer. Let’s keep the responsibility for this mess firmly where it belongs.

  3. The Marketplace does not have to take notice of every crazy letter or email it receives, I am disappointed how easy it is to bully people out of saying what they really want to say, I hope that the papers and magazines I read are not as easily influenced by people with an inflated perception of their own importance.

  4. Part of the problem would have been the timing: something like that coming in just as you’re scheduling your print run doesn’t give you much option. Ditto for Dave: he was up to his eyebrows, no way was he going to find time before Lambeth to respond properly. But yes, I hear what you say.

    Look on the bright side: you’ve been blogged on the World’s No.1 SPCK/SSG Blog 😉 — watch out or you could get as infamous as me!

  5. Well that is a small claim to fame at least. I will print it out and frame it alongside my 12 metres swimming certificate, and my 3rd place “Egg and Spoon” race badge.

  6. That’s encouraging 🙂 — can you take a photo and post in on your blog, please?? Then, when this all over, we’ll all be able to have a laugh at it together. Must remember to send a copy to Mr Brewer for posterity. I look forward to the day when this blog becomes unnecessary.

    Mr Brewer, if you’re reading this, you know how you can make it so. And I don’t mean by sending me more angry emails.

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  8. Pingback: Rescuing Britain’s Christian Heritage: Durham Cathedral Bookshop « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

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