Tag Archives: Christian Marketplace

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 spckssg.wordpress.com 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!” (exeterblog.blogspot.com).

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.

SPCK/SSG News Round-up in Christian Marketplace

June’s Christian Marketplace magazine provides a fairly comprehensive round-up of recent news relating to the ongoing SPCK/SSG shenanigans.

Industry News starts on page 6 and first up is SSG Shops pulled from auction featuring Simon Kingston, SPCK Publishing’s General Secretary and CEO, expressing surprise that the shops were even being offered for sale. Whatever may happen to the shops concerned, however, he confirmed

that there was indeed “a covenant on the freeholds limiting their use for some time to that of Christian bookselling with a broad multi-denominational stockholding.”

Next comes New Bookshop for York: the closure of SSG in York certainly doesn’t spell the end of Christian bookselling in the city as St Paul’s have announced the opening of a new store in September, “making St Paul’s the largest chain of Catholic bookshops in the country.” (Not to mention, of course, the continued presence of the Barbican Bookshop/Wesley Owen on Fossgate).

Moving on to page 7, Beware spckonline.com – Google picks up on my report here warning people of the potential danger of visiting SSG online. Astonishingly, as I write exactly two months since the problem was first reported by a contributor to Dave Walker’s blog on March 31st 2008, SSG still do not appear to have got their house in order and Google’s warning remains in place today (sorry, did I say ‘astonishingly’? My typing finger must have slipped…).

The Dawkins DelusionAlso on page 7 we have SPCK Publishing off to a record start announcing “the best monthly sales in the history of the company” during January this year, “despite the company no longer having the advantage of their own chain of bookshops, following the transfer to SSG…” Part of that sales boost is, of course, due to the McGraths’ riposte to Richard Dawkins, The Dawkins Delusion.

Finally, page 9, Ex-SPCK Bookshop staff get together reports briefly on the meeting for former SPCK booksellers and others held in Esher on 14th May, which I was privileged to attend.

All in all an excellent round up of news and related stories: my thanks to Clem Jackson, Christian Marketplace’s Editor, for giving me and this blog more than a few honourable mentions along the way, and I suspect I speak for many more when I say particular thanks for helping to keep the SPCK/SSG situation in the spotlight.

If you, gentle reader, are not a subscriber to Christian Marketplace may I encourage you to consider signing up? At only £25 per year (monthly: 12 issues) it’s excellent value for money and will help keep you up to speed with both the world of Christian retail and the world of Christian publishing: never again will you need to ask “What’s new?” — you’ll know already.

May those booksellers still working for SSG find the strength they need to face an uncertain future, and may those whom the Brewers seem to have cast aside so carelessly find justice in their forthcoming employment tribunals: grace and peace to you all.