God's bankers: How evangelical Christianity is taking a hold of the City of London’s financial institutions
Alex Preston asks how the disciples of evangelical Christianity reconcile their faith with the avarice of high finance
April 24, 2011
When I worked in the City, I could see the spire of Christ Church Spitalfields from my desk. I liked to look at it as I traded – it represented something far from the grubby materialism of my day job. This was 2007 and the first intimations of the financial crash were being felt. People were skittish: I think we all knew the party was coming to an end. On Tuesdays and Thursdays some of my colleagues on the trading floor would disappear around lunchtime. Groups of twos and threes scurried off to return an hour later, looking cheerful. In the pub after work one evening, I asked the Australian girl who sat at the desk beside mine about her lunchtime absences and she told me of secretive evangelical meetings that took place in the City, about how the church gave her a place to step away from the pressure and worry of her job. It also gave her a sense of belonging to a community. She was lonely in London, she said.
The relationship between faith and finance runs deep. Quaker-run banks such as Barclays – founded three centuries ago on Lombard Street – survived when many of their peers crumbled during the crashes of the mid-1700s precisely because of the Christian ethics that underpinned their businesses. More recently, Stephen Green stepped down as chairman and chief executive of HSBC to take holy orders. And over the past decade, a specific type of evangelical Christianity has taken hold of the Square Mile, although only recently has it dared speak its name (at least in City circles). Foremost among them is the Alpha course, whose extraordinary expansion has been funded in part from the deep pockets of former Lazard chairman Ken Costa. k
Founded at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in Knightsbridge in 1991, Alpha has grown from an initial four churches to operate in more than 55,000 locations in 164 countries. It is estimated that more than 16 million people have taken the course worldwide. Jonathan Aitken, Geri Halliwell, Sir Ian Blair and Bear Grylls are all regulars. the rest