a road not taken

Lately I have been reading some of the wartime letters of Dorothy Sayers — who, I have just learned, pronounced her name to rhyme with “stairs” — and have been constantly reminded of something that I wrote about a bit in my Year of Our Lord 1943: the complex network, centered of course in London, of Christians working outside of standard ecclesiastical channels to bring a vibrant Christian faith before the minds of the people of England in the midst of war. People like J. H. Oldham and Philip Mairet and, perhaps above all, James Welch of the BBC — who convinced Dorothy Sayers to write the radio plays that came to be called The Man Born to be King, recruited C. S. Lewis to give the broadcast talks that became Mere Christianity, and commissioned music from Ralph Vaughan Williams — ended up having an impact on the public face of English Christianity that was enormous but is now almost completely unknown.

At one point in researching my book I thought seriously about throwing out my plans and writing this story instead — but I couldn’t bear to let go of the fascinating interplay between ideas being articulated in England and their close siblings arising in the U.S., especially in New York City.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned it here before — a quick search suggests not — but I have long dreamed of writing a book called Christian London: a history of the distinctive and often profoundly influential role that London has played in the history of Christianity. However, no one I have spoken to about this project — my agent, various editors, friends — has shared my enthusiasm. I might write it one day anyhow, and if I do, people like Oldham and Mairet and Welch will be major characters in one chapter.