2 minute read
Peter Gumbel

Sandy Christie knows all about the lure of money and a globe-trotting, upscale lifestyle. He spent 11 years working as an investment banker in London and Tokyo. He got into the business in the 1980s, he says, “because I suppose I was interested in money, and thought it sounded like a very glamorous life, which it was.” But Christie says he had increasing qualms about what he was doing and realized it wasn’t a job he wanted for the rest of his life. So he quitand became a priest. “Working for money is ultimately unfulfilling,” says Christie, 47, from his home for the past three years, the vicarage opposite the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in the south London borough of Blackheath.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for people to drop out of the rat race in favor of more spiritual pursuits. Still, Christie’s decision to join the Church of England put him decidedly outside the mainstream. The Church’s membership has dwindled dramatically over the past few decades, and Christie says he realizes that the days when vicars were automatically viewed as respected community figures are long gone. “Being a clergyman doesn’t have much moral authority these days,” he says. And as a vicar, he says he sometimes struggles to balance demands for what people ask him to do with what he feels is right. “We’re living in a very consumerist society, and the church must compete in the marketplace,” he says.

To make his message more accessible, Christie rarely wears a dog collar and refuses to deliver his Sunday sermons from the raised stone pulpit in the church, preferring instead to speak from a lectern that’s at the same height as the congregation. But “there’s a tension between what I will and will not do,” Christie says. “We are not a religious version of Tesco,” the British supermarket chain. That means Whitney Houston songs at funerals are acceptable, but New Age drumming groups in the church hall or Buddhist marriage vows are not. “We’re out there competing with everyone else for trust and respect,” Christie says, “and that’s a good thing on balance.” Respect has to be earned and lived out, Christie firmly believes. And in the marketplace of ideas, there’s a big value in people who have the time and patience to listen.

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