“This Town ain’t big enough for the both of us” said Gerald the Sheep

Matt Wardman writes:

It is 8 months since Phil Groom started the SPCK/SSG News Blog to help scrutinise the rundown of the former-SPCK chain of Bookshops.

Our cartoonists have kindly contributed a cartoon or two to remind everyone that it is the end of the year, and we’re still here. Here’s Gerald the Sheep back in town:


(By the way, there is a big “printable” version of the cartoon here).

This is how Phil stated the problem back in April:

What, exactly, do we mean by the designation ‘Christian’ when we refer to bookshops or publishers? Is it simply that we trade in products that relate to the Christian faith — are we simply a subset of other businesses and commercial enterprises? Or is there — should there be — something more distinctive than that? A sense of mission, perhaps? A sense of mission that goes beyond questions of finance, profit and loss, that makes us determined — somehow — to continue trading no matter what the odds stacked against us?

Or is it something about our business practices? Honesty and integrity, compassion and humility — a willingness to put others first: an emphasis on service, on service that goes beyond the call of duty to offer our customers, our co-workers — whether employees or employers — the best that we possibly can? Treating others with respect, as better than ourselves…

I ask these questions not out of idle curiosity but out of deep concern as I watch the debacle of the SPCK/SSG bookshops deepen, a once excellent chain brought to ruin (latest reports listed below)… and as I see Christian divisions of secular publishing houses increasingly dominating our marketplace. Lorna Roe, responding to my ‘Bibles and Bookmarks‘ post, puts the question about publishers bluntly:

There are a lot of ‘Christian’ publishers out there who try and cash in on the huge popularity of that one most important book, the Bible. Blatant materialism.

So, to get to the crux of the issue: is being Christian about what we (say we) believe or about how we behave? I put it to you that what we believe only matters insofar as it affects the way we behave. Jesus himself warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20).

In that light, what does what we’ve seen to date of the behaviour of the Brewer brothers tell us? What we’ve seen of the their attitude towards their staff; towards their suppliers; towards SPCK… of their disingenuity in their correspondence here, denying the reality of shop closures? Can we, with any sense of integrity, continue to refer to their shops as ‘Christian’?

I am in a quandary: on the one hand I want to support those SPCK booksellers who have somehow survived the storms thus far and are still working in their shops; on the other, I find myself wanting to expunge every record of the SPCK/SSG Bookshops from the UK Christian Bookshops Directory. The designation ‘Christian’ is sullied and brought into disrepute by the Brewers’ behaviour.

Would Jesus recognise them as having anything to do with him?

What would you do?

Lord have mercy…


4 responses to ““This Town ain’t big enough for the both of us” said Gerald the Sheep

  1. As it is the season of silly verse and I seem to be have writing quite a bit for various purposes, here is my ‘poetic’ take on the old, old story:

    The Texan Bookstore Massacre

    Long ago, way back when
    bookshops still employed freethinking men,
    there were some shops called SPCK
    who let the managers runs things their way.
    For years this was great and everyone did thrive
    but after a while sales took a nosedive.

    So SPCK gave away all its stores, staff and stock
    to a bunch of rich Texans, it was a bit of a shock.
    The Texans were lawyers and Orthodox too,
    they hated the Brits and the shops they did screw.
    They changed all the rules, threw our contracts away
    and told us to work each week, everyday.
    And just when you’d worked from dusk until dawn
    they’d command you to go and mow their church lawn.
    They made staff redundant with no redundancy
    saying ‘if you want wages, then just you sue me.’
    They declared themselves bankrupt in the good ole US,
    But got Contempt of Court ‘cos their papers were a mess.
    They hated the thought of UK Employment Law
    and were taken to task by the union USDAW
    (at least thirty times – which is a lot you will see
    as SPCK staff numbered one hundred and fifty.)

    People were fired by email, by proxy, by stealth
    as the Texans ran off with the stock on the shelf.
    They wouldn’t pay pensions, tax or suppliers,
    but if you complained your prospects were dire.
    Against all agreements many shops they did close
    and started new companies before assets were froze.
    When asked what they’d done they said ‘it is not me,
    it is all your own fault, we’re good, don’t you see?’
    Two years after they started, like Ozymandias stands
    the remains of the shops, being covered by sands
    as by winds of recession our nation is battered
    and the Texans’ dark deeds have a proud heritage shattered.

  2. Was the Baa-ble meant to be an imitation of a Southern American accent. I loved it. Thanks Ben.

  3. Pingback: A Very Happy Christmas to all this Blog’s Friends and Supporters « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  4. Pingback: Pursuing the Brewers: Contact Info, Facts and Resources « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

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