The city of Hull, on the east coast of England, has an unlikely claim to fame. According to Richard Bentley, pastor of Bodmin Road Evangelical Church in the district of Bransholme, Hull has the worst church attendance in the United Kingdom. Still, such is the freefall in British church membership in recent decades, by the time you read this, another city will have staked its claim.
Which is not to say Rev. Bentley has a lot of free time on his hands. Most of the week he is ministering to the 26,000 occupants of Britain's largest housing estate, where he and his colleagues run a plethora of social and community activities, from mothers and toddlers groups and after-school homework clubs to a refuge for Bosnian Muslims and literacy programs with Nottingham University.
Were proof needed of Archbishop William Temple's dictum that the church is "the only voluntary organization that exists solely for the benefit of nonmembers," then here it is in Bransholme.
"The services we provide to the community are used almost exclusively by people who do not come to our church," explains the minister. "We don't Bible-bash; we work where we think there is a need to be met."
And, unlike many other professionals working with some of the country's most deprived communities, the members of Bodmin Road Evangelical Church also live next door to them. "We live on the same housing estate. The teachers don't, the social workers don't, and the policy makers certainly don't," he says. "And because we live here, we know what the problems are."