This afternoon was Crawley’s Annual Civic Service, an event held to bless all those involved in serving Crawley, asking for them to be provided with the support they need to delivering for the town over the coming year. The event is hosted by the Mayor and is attended by the town’s major political and community figures, along with the ‘Chain Gang’ of Mayors and Chairpersons of neighbouring councils. in a The event does tend to be religious, although that is not a requirement and nor is the religion set in stone, while this year’s service was held in St John’s again, last year the service was held in the Hindu temple at the Apple Tree Centre.
Although I was brought up attending church and going to Anglican schools, having been an agnostic since my teens I do find it a little odd to be back in church for a reason other than Remembrance Sunday, a wedding or a funeral. While my upbringing means that I can comfortably navigate through the hymns and liturgy, it does beg the question how far the civic traditions of the town reflect our modern identity. At the last census in 2011, 54% of Crawley’s respondents said that they were Christian, while the second largest category of ‘No Religion’ only amounted to 26% of the total. So, on the surface it would seem that with 54% of the population Christian, a Christian service could well be said to reflect local traditions.
Yet, if we break that number down into the various Christian denominations: Anglican, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (there are growing numbers), Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. I wonder what proportion would feel represented by an Anglican service. Looking even deeper, only a fifth of those who self-identify as Christian attend church once a week in the UK, and there’s no reason to believe that those who do attend church can’t still have their own doubts on whether the mixing religious and civic duties in this way is appropriate.
However, the real issue here isn’t the Civic Service, it’s asking whether there’s a better way to run a civic programme in the Twenty-First Century. Crawley gained Borough status in 1974, pretty much the sole consequence of which was the ability for the council to appoint a Mayor. At the time this was ‘the’ thing for councils to do, the Mayor taking on the sort of local ceremonial role which on the national level is assumed by a monarch, while the actual decision-making power rests with the Leader and Cabinet (or at the time the Committee Chairs). There’s no doubt to my mind that the mayoralty does helps to bring a level of identity to a place and I know local community groups enjoy having the presence of the Mayor, and particularly the chain, at their events, but in terms of the other civic traditions, perhaps its time we asked ourselves what we’re really looking from the mayoralty?*
*This is certainly not a reflection on any current or past mayor, the question is what do we want for the future?