28 October 2021

When 5.5 million readers are
more than I can count

Čumil ‘the watcher’ or the ‘Man at Work’ is hardly bothered by his daily tasks in Bratislava … about 5.5 million people live in Slovakia (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

It came as a pleasant surprise to me that the number of visitors to this blog passed the 5.5 million mark late this afternoon [28 October 2021].

I have said so often before that this is not a ‘bells-and-whistles’ blog, and I still hope it is never going to be a commercial success. It was never designed to be so.

I decline advertising and commercial sponsorships, I accept no ‘freebies,’ and I endorse no products. Even when I am political, mainly about war and peace, racism, human rights and refugees, I refuse to declare my personal party preferences when it comes to voting.

I am keen to resist commercial pressures, I have refused to receive books from publishers and I only review books I have bought myself. Without making too much a point of it, I value my independence so much that I refuse the offer of coffee when I return to a restaurant I have mentioned … as journalists like to be reminded, there is no such thing as a free meal.

The half dozen most popular postings on this blog so far have been:

1, The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons and Orthodox spirituality (7 April 2010), almost 30,000 hits.

2, About me (1 May 2007), over 25,400 hits.

3, ‘When all that’s left of me is love, give me away’ … a poem before Kaddish has gone viral (15 January 2020), over 17,000 hits.

4, Readings in Spirituality: the novelist as a writer in spirituality and theology (26 November 2009), over 16,500 hits.

5, A visit to Howth Castle and Environs (19 March 2012), over 16,000 hits.

6, Raising money at the book stall and walking the beaches of Portrane (1 August 2011), about 12,400 hits.

When I began blogging it took until July 2012 to reach 0.5 million hits. This figure rose to 1 million by September 2013; 1.5 million in June 2014; 2 million in June 2015; 2.5 million in November 2016; 3 million by October 2016; 3.5 million by September 2018; 4 million on 19 November 2019; 4.5 million on 18 June 2020; and 5 million on 27 March 2021.

To break down those figures, you could day that 10 per cent of hits have been in the past seven months or so. This blog is getting more than half a million hits in a seven-month period, somewhere about 50,000 to 60,000 a month, or up to 2,000 a day.

But those are figures surpassed on some occasions, and this is a tally of the biggest daily hits:

19,328: 18 August 2021
19,143: 3 February 2020
17,641: 5 February 2020
16,854: 4 February 2020
16,331: 19 August 2021

15,587: 6 February 2020
14,775: 2 February 2020
13,030: 26 May 2020
9,960: 30 January 2020
8,671: 26 December 2019

7,239: 20 May 2020
7,128: 3 May 2020
6,933: 24 November 2019
6,683: 14 January 2020
6,541: 9 April 2020

6,507: 22 December 2019
6,463: 26 January 2020
6,374: 6 November 2019
6,308: 26 November 2019
6,285: 14 October 2019

6,280: 3 January 2020
6,208: 29 November 2019
6,205: 30 November 2019
6,152: 1 October 2019
6,113: 2 January 2020

In other words, the top ‘two dozen’ or have been within the past year or two.

As for the latest landmark figure of 5.5 million hits, I might ask: what do 5.5 million people look like?

After 10 years of conflict, half the population of Syria has been forced to flee home, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, and 70% are living in poverty.

In a statement marking the tenth anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria, UNHCR said that the crisis has produced more than 5.5 million refugees in the region. while hundreds of thousands more are scattered across 130 countries. Of these 5.5 million refugees, 70% of refugees are living in a condition of total poverty, without access to food, water and basic services.

About 5.5 million people live in Denmark, Finland and Slovakia, the population of Scotland reached 5.5 million last year, and the population of Ireland is expected to reach 5.5 million by 2050. There are about 5.5 million people in Singapore, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Fukuoka, Khartoum, Barcelona, Johannesburg and Saint Petersburg.

The European Commission allocated €5.5 million in August in humanitarian funding to help strengthen the Covid-19 response in Lebanon. The funding comes as Lebanon faces high infection rates, with the national health system close to collapse as well as low vaccination rates.

Montebello House, a nine-bedroom five-bathroom Victorian house on Killiney Hill Road, went for sale this year with an asking price of €5.5 million, the same price as a private island off the west coast of Ireland that was sold last year. When Montebello came on the market in 2017, the asking price was €9 million.

Horse Island, a 157-acre private island off the coast of Schull in Co Cork, sold for over €5.5 million last year. Horse Island has one main, six-bedroom house, six guest houses, a boathouse and a helipad. It was sold after months of negotiations during the Covid-19 lockdown.

A prime site in Dublin city centre’s business district at 19/20 Lombard Street and 112/114 Townsend Street, was put on the market earlier this year on behalf of a private investor by agent JLL, with a guide price of €5.5 million.

Ariel House, a well-known guesthouse in Dublin, was for sale earlier this year at €5.5 million. The four-star, 37-bedroom business includes three adjoining Victorian houses at 50, 52 and 54 Lansdowne Road, Ballsbridge.

More than 5.5 million fewer passengers used Irish airports in the first quarter of 2021 compared to last year. Figures show that during January, February and March, almost 419,000 passengers passed through the five main Irish airports, a drop of 92.9% when compared with the same period last year.

Irish lobbyists spent more than €5.5 million in 2019 and 2020 engaging with EU officials, according to figures released this year.

Diabetes UK warned earlier this month that without significant government action up to 5.5 million people could be living with diabetes in the UK by 2030.

Ed Sheeran has broken the record for the biggest ever Live music performance on TikTok with over 5.5 million unique viewers watching the show across the live stream on Friday 25 and two replays on Saturday 26 June.

Work continues on Gaudí’s La Sagrada Família … about 5.5 million people live in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
152, Wade Street Church, Lichfield

Wade Street Church in Lichfield represents a tradition dating back to the 1670s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Church Calendar, today is the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles (28 October 2021).

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for this week is churches in Lichfield, where I spent part of the week before last in a retreat of sorts, following the daily cycle of prayer in Lichfield and visiting the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital and other churches.

In this series, I have already visited Lichfield Cathedral (15 March), Holy Cross Church (26 March), the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital (14 March), the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George, Comberford (11 April), Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell (2 September) and the former Franciscan Friary in Lichfield (12 October).

This week’s theme of Lichfield churches, which I began with Saint Chad’s Church on Sunday, included Saint Mary’s Church on Monday, Saint Michael’s Church on Tuesday, and Christ Church, Leomansley, yesterday, and continues this morning (28 October 2021) with photographs from Wade Street Church.

The interior of Wade Street Church, Lichfield, seen from the gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I spoke in Wade Street Church two years ago [17 September 2019] on the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House, Tamworth, at the invitation of Lichfield Civic Trust, and about 60 or 65 people were present in the Wade Street Church Community Hall on Frog Lane.

Wade Street Church represents the continuity of a religious tradition that dates back to 1672, when five houses in Lichfield were licensed for Presbyterian worship. The Congregationalists met in Tunstall’s Yard in 1790, grew into the United Reformed Church in Wade Street, which is now both a United Reformed and a Baptist church.

Despite the evangelical revival in the late 18th century, Lichfield remained a staunchly Anglican city. A storeroom on Sandford Street was fitted for public worship by George Burder of Coventry and John Moody of Warwick in 1790, but by 1796 the congregation had declined and closed.

But the situation changed again in 1802, and the former chapel on Sandford Street reopened in 1802 as an ‘Independent’ or Congregationalist chapel. William Salt from Cannock was one of the first leaders of the new church, and the Christian Society, as it then called itself, was formally set up on 13 June 1808.

However, Salt wrote of how the new congregation faced considerable local opposition, and the numbers attending dwindled to 60. As a consequence of this strong local opposition, 19-year-old Henry Fairbrother, a tailor’s apprentice, poisoned himself. The jury at his inquest agreed his suicide was caused by ‘lunacy due to the effects produced by the doctrines he had heard at the meeting of the persons called “The Methodists”.’

The entry for his burial at Saint Chad’s Church reads: ‘buried Henry Fairbrother, an exemplary young man until driven to despair and suicide by the denunciation of the people called “Methodists”.’

Of course, the Congregationalists were not Methodists, but at the time the two groups were often confused by many people in Lichfield.

Meanwhile, Salt was attacked in pamphlets circulated throughout Lichfield. In response, he preached a sermon and distributed 1,000 copies to every house in Lichfield. The response was positive, and a fund was set up to build an ‘Independent’ or Congregationalist chapel by subscription.

Salem Chapel on Wade Street was registered for public worship on 17 September 1811, the church was officially opened on Wednesday 18 March 1812, and the Revd William Salt was ordained as its first full-time minister.

The church was designed as a simple ‘preaching box,’ with a central pulpit but with no stained glass or any other decoration. The style of a lecture hall emphasised the centrality of the preaching of the word of God.

To meet the needs of a growing congregation, the rear gallery was opened on Christmas Day 1815, and the side galleries added by 1824. One of these side galleries still has the original numbered box pews that continued to be rented until the early 20th century.

Salt, who was the pastor of the Independent Church in Lichfield for 33 years, died on 1 June 1857.

The church was renovated in the 1870s, when new pews in light wood were installed downstairs and the interior was painted. The Lichfield Mercury reported that the once ‘dingy and uninviting interior now had a cheerful and inviting aspect.’

A celebratory party in the Corn Exchange – now McKenzie’s Restaurant – was attended by 350 people.

A new organ with 566 pipes was bought for £180 in 1884.

The Revd William Francis Dawson was appointed minister in 1895, with an annual stipend of £100. But the stipend was insufficient, and things began to decline in the church. The Sunday school closed in 1900, the trustees closed the chapel in 1902 and Dawson resigned.

The church remained closed for 15 months. But seven members met in 1903 to discuss reopening the chapel. Staffordshire Congregational Union made a grant of £70 towards a minister’s stipend, and in turn was given a voice in running the church and calling its ministers.

The church reopened in June 1903 along with the Sunday School, and things continued to improve. A new pulpit was erected in 1916, and a new hall was built on Frog Lane in 1932. In the decades that followed, the congregation grew and declined, following national trends.

The Congregationalist churches in Britain united with the Presbyterian Church in 1972 to form the United Reformed Church, and Wade Street Church was part of this new union.

An attempt was made to sell the church in 1980s. But Lichfield District Council listed the building, it was refurbished, a new floor was provided, the pews were ‘dipped’ and cleaned, new carpets were laid, and the old tortoise stove was removed.

The congregation grew steadily in the 1990s, and the church became an ecumenical partnership with the Baptists.

The organ was removed in 1997, creating more space, and new seating was installed throughout the building.

A £500,000 project was launched to redevelop the premises, and new multipurpose facilities opened in 2005, ahead of target and under budget.

The Revd Ian Hayter is the minister of Wade Street Church. The church and its halls are used today by a variety of community groups, including Lichfield Civic Trust, who hosted my lecture, as well as the Cathedral Chorus, the Wildlife Folk, Weightwatchers and the Food Bank.

The gallery in Wade Street Church in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 17-27 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 17 ‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.’

‘Pray to the Lord for the City’ … Lichfield Cathedral and the city on a banner in Wade Street Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (28 October 2021, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the lives of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. May we strive to emulate their zeal and hope.

A surviving box pew in the gallery in Wade Street Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Revd William Salt of Wade Street Church died in 1857 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A tapestry with angels in Wade Street Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)