Listen to this article

The problem: History past and present

Along with everything else at the end of the second world war, the church was in chaos, not enough clergy to fill the livings, poverty at all levels of the population, including the clergy, in both rural and run-down areas in the cities.

This all went hand in hand with a downturn in belief and trust in God because of all the suffering that had happened, and the church had no answer to it. The church had stated that God was in charge and would protect people when clearly that was not their experience.  The surge in New Testament teaching and biblical analysis of scripture did little to solve the problem, and the book “Does God exist“ by David Edwards did not stop the growth of atheism.

Along with everyone else the Church said that centralisation was the answer. This they have done more and more over the last 70 years, and now wonder why attendance at Church has seriously fallen and the congregations are largely made up of those over 50 with the occasional exception.

The State has side-lined belief in God as a myth to give the weak support and labelled all faith as controlling and subversive. It has totally forgotten that the Christian Faith is the solid base on which this country has led the world in truth and honesty and justice.

The state along with the rest of the world, is now in a total muddle itself since the very fact of global warming has made it perfectly clear that the Christian faith forms a central part of our understanding of the creation we have been given and the task our Heavenly Father wishes us to do and to be.

What is the Church doing but going down the path that seems to have caused the problem from the start? Money.

As with the international surge in making positive efforts to set right the causes of Global warming, in the same way the Church has to give back total responsibility to the Parish to grow the faith in the parish communities, and to rebuild the love and generosity that comes from belief and trust in the Christian God. We can then reduce almost completely the huge administration structures we have built to justify our human agenda and not God’s love of his creation.

What is The Centre, through Synod trying to do? In response to the thinking that financial viability and political correctness is all that prevents the church from; making great strides and restoring its influence over life, they are trying to set in place ownership of all church property across the country under the control of Synod and the central structure of the Church. Thereby Clergy will be employed by Synod and in charge of areas controlled and run by each Diocese. This should ensure that financial viability is the measure for success or failure!

But you cannot gauge success or failure of pastoral ministry in quantifiable terms that will suit a system that assesses valuation in financial return. It is not a task that anyone can do. We are wrong when we try to control the calling of God in terms of  worldly success or failure. The Church has sought to follow this path since the  acceptance of the Tiller report by Synod in 1983. The plan of the Archbishops is the next step in that unfortunate decision. It was wrong then and is a recipe for disaster now. Not a good idea! !

Because the Diocesan Centres have helped administer the care, repair and sale of clergy housing. Nonetheless it is still property owned by that parish or living. The parish is charged for this service in their share or quota, along with the stipend of the clergy, pension and insurance and ministry costs. On top of this the parish also has to find the money to run the parish, costs of insurance and safeguarding, regular repair and maintenance of buildings, the clergy and staff expenses, as well as any costs locally to administer all this where it is not done by volunteers. This is all before they can undertake new development work in all the fields of pastoral care, teaching and worship.

It is not that the Church is short of money it is how we spend that money which really matters. The Centres have already pooled the endowment money from the Parishes and most of the Glebe land is administered by the Dioceses and still the Parish is asked for even more money as the other has not bee totally used to support them. Mainly on the principle that if you hold the resources,  you control people and do not serve them! Parishes do not exist to serve a system, let alone worship it.

The idea that we will sustain more income by having fewer clergy and expect the laity to fund raise to feed the structures ever-growing appetite is most unlikely to happen at all. In fact, the reverse, since you cannot demand generosity because that then becomes a tax. History tells us that does not work in Christianity. We have created a large administrative monster which eats all the resources we can provide because that is the nature of such monsters.

Thinking of selling buildings or houses which belong to the people in a parish and to shut the parish is a very good self-destruct button. Dictating what the clergy say and do and assessing them and the parish with both practical and financial targets will not work. Clergy are called of God to serve him in all that they do and how they behave in serving others. It is to show unconditional love in action in that community as they live life together and to worship the giver of all life in our obedience to his New Covenant, with the power that his covenant brings.

Response to God’s love in gratitude for all we have and what we can do by working with him, can restore the Trust, Truth and Faith we will need in order to regain the love and gratitude that we need to understand God’s agenda to sustain his creation. The success of God’s love of us as we work together to put right Global warming lies in our local communities being responsible again and sharing our love and forgiveness as we worship and live together. We are humans not “digits”, the things that will enable us to listen to God’s love are not systems. It is our fellow human beings responding to the love of God, lived and shared in our communities.  This means taking responsibility and not expecting others to do things for us.  We have caused the mess we are in.

The answer as to what we do to handle things today is to face the untruths which have been spread about through the media and governmental systems as to how humanity needs to act in this world for it to continue and remain stable.  Selfish pursuit of personal power and wealth as the yardstick is not the way.

Start recognising the truth and purpose of God’s creation of Humanity as revealed to us in Christ. It is not a myth but a matter of history and creation itself. How we respond to the unconditional love of our creator and fulfil his purpose for this wonderful creation we live in, is for us to discover and find out and value and respect God as we move to his agenda and not ours.

It is only when we allow humanity to respond to God’s purpose for us to work with him in the terms of his purpose and not ours, that we will be able to serve God, respect and value each other, and ensure the survival of our planet for future generations. This global warming has woken us up to the fact that the present reality to have more, grow more, and control more is not going to solve the problem. Money and Power, wealth and influence, only have value when they work with God’s rhythm for humanity and his creation. We have the knowledge and skills to do this but only when we respect God and his creation in which he has placed us.

Is this the Way Forward?

This lies in giving people responsibility for who they are and what they do and how they behave in relation to others. It is a corporate responsibility under God and his call, not under governmental dictate, or faith controlling kingdom building, to the exclusion of others.

To achieve respect and peace and harmony and trusted working together can only best be done by understanding that God is the creator of all and the giver of life. He cannot be contained or controlled by a nation or a group of people and made to conform to a human agenda. Why give us the power to respond to good and overcome evil, or pursue evil and seek to control all human activity if this is not to prevent evil overcoming good and destroying life and creation itself.

We have inherited in this country a concept of community which is based on the family and yet encompasses a group of people that makes it an extended family which can have many different forms to unite it and hold it together. Historically this has been enabled to happen by the building a house which belongs to God, and where any one in that community can feel secure in God. In this group a person was appointed to help that group work together with God both in trusting God and each other, to serve him in the ways that benefitted and served each other in the community, both in survival and understanding of the created world in which we live.

It is here that we hit the dichotomy between the human way of working to make people to conform to a plan that suits their immediate thought and desire, which has deviated from God’s plan. His plan evolves through  love and understanding, compassion and forgiveness, conforming to that which holds his creation in balance.

Now, with the power that our knowledge of the treasures that this world holds, the world has claimed to be superior to its creator and in its greed for wealth, power and control it now seeks to take away the very essence of our being which is freewill. This freewill enables us to defeat evil and restore our ability to love in response to God’s love  of us, which no system of control and order can achieve. Our freewill enables us to respond to the love of our creator and to work with him in the nurture and care of all his creation and defeat evil by the power of his love. Against this we can also choose to follow the many paths of evil and destroy God’s creation in order to have power for ourselves.

In the destruction of the Parish and local community groups, and the importance of having a person on the ground in each community to serve and foster those people ,the centre instead wishes to impose control and influence by imposing financial viability on the parish communities, getting rid of those who fail to conform, selling the very structures that have enabled them to draw on God’s loving purposes. They are treating Faith as a commodity which you can sell to people and ensure their conformity by demanding funds to ensure control.

Does The Diocese hold the key?

It is possible that it does, but the action that it needs to take requires a different way of thinking.

Restore all responsibility back to the parish groups and individual parishes. The Housing,( which they already pay for in their quota or share) and the responsibilities that go with it. All fees that the diocese collects on their behalf to be restored to them. All responsibilities to do with interregnums and payments for use of visiting clergy for cover should be with the Parish. The payment of the Clergy stipend to the diocese is not made until a new incumbent is inducted. The stipend of the clergy is the only payment made to the Diocese by the Parish. The pension can be paid out of Diocesan glebe held by the Diocese.

All fees for the training of the Clergy should be paid for by the centre from the money held by the Church Commissioners. This came originally from the endowments given to the parishes to ensure an Incumbent and taken in hand by the Commissioners in 1976. There is sufficient money available on an annual basis to meet this cost, as well as past pensions of the retired. Thanks to the wise investment of the Commissioners. It also pays most of the costs of the episcopy let alone unspecified central costs and various experimental costs across the Church. The spending and allocating of this annual sum is a serious bone of contention at the centre. The present habit of the centre in placing everything under the loose head of the costing of  “ maintaining the ministry of the Church”  has carefully placed a smoke screen over what it is actually spent On. Not good.

All this change would entail a new think with the Diocese. The whole structure for parsonages would not be needed. All specialist ministries would be linked and attached to larger congregation who could fund and support their work. Committee work ,advice and responsibility will need reassessment and evaluation on the basis that it is not a question of how they control what goes on in the parish, but how can they support the work being undertaken in the parishes and deaneries.

The parish clergy need the support and love of the Bishop and his advisers to help them in their serving of their parishioners. It is not a question of making people do things, but how we enable them to see in us, as we walk alongside them, the unconditional love of God and how that can help them find and enjoy God in their own lives and be happy and loving, respecting and valuing God and living it out with each other.

The Convocations of Canterbury and York were structures which were there to help and encourage and support the clergy in their parishes which were all independent of any central administration and under the authority of their Bishop. By the end of two world wars, and with the knowledge of creation and God’s direct presence and influence was being seen in a different way, things were changing all over the world, let alone in this country. To enable change to take place systems were devised to help us work together and so impose change through the use of money and governance across the communities. This changed the hopes and expectations of a large community who had been deprived. Materially it gave them a much better life and with education the ability to use new skills to be part of the developing world. Our Leaders in the Church at this time felt that it would right to bring the Convocations into line with modern thinking and have a synod to govern and unite the Church. Democratic representation and seeking a common view was felt to be important. However as we have experienced with National governments, these institutions soon become vehicles of control to ensure power and money to control people and order their conformity. In Great Britain this all can change every 5 years with democratic elections.

In the case of the Church, the executive stays exactly the same even though the representatives in the house of Clergy and that of the Laity may vary. The Synod can only advise on what can happen in the Church, it has no power to impose it. It would appear that the executive at the centre is seeking to obtain authority to totally control the call of clergy to the ministry by obtaining authority to close all subunits that are not politically correct or financially viable or behind in “Voluntary” payments of funds requested, over which they have no control.

I cannot believe that this is what the Bishops or their Dioceses envisage, but it will be what happens unless the Bishops take back looking after their parishes and the re-ordering their administration to give back responsibility to the parish and their clergy, making God’s Plan for us and his creation once again the centre of our calling.

This is not just to prevent our capitulation to the evil that has landed humanity in this mess, it is to ensure that the very people who are expected to know and understand and point out the way to respond to God’s purpose for humanity and restore the balance again in God’s creation, can speak with understanding  because they are not caught up in the greed and selfishness that has caused the disaster in the first place.

Action is needed now, not when they have the time, when they have shut all the parishes and think they are financially and politically viable. By then it will be ”TBL.” What God plans to do in the event that those whom he has called have thrown all their toys out of the pram and the world is achieving its own destruction – aheu!



Froghole · 31 December 2021 at 1:56 pm

Thank you very much for this. However, I must respectfully disagree with some of your proposals, and I mention this as I have been spending quite a bit of time lately travelling up from Kent to attend services at your old benefice which is now within the vast Bolingbroke Group (further to a pastoral scheme made earlier this year which incorporated Arthur Smith’s South Ormsby Group, which now has only one service a week, and not always every week).

The Alford Group, Bolingbroke Group, South Wolds (i.e., Asterby, Hemingby and Horncastle) Group and Legbourne Woldmarsh Group have the highest density of closed churches in England. Indeed, the old riding of South Lindsey has lost nearly half its stock, mostly within living memory, and certainly since the Pastoral Measure 1968:

Aby (dem.); Asgarby by Spilsby (dem.); Asterby (mon., but falling into ruin); Authorpe (dem.); Biscathorpe (lately closed; future uncertain; FFC interested); Binbrook St Mary (ruined long ago); Burwell (CCT; one service 3 years ago); Calceby (long lost); Calcethorpe (ruined long ago); Castle Carlton (dem.); Cawkwell (dem.); Claxby (mon.); Claxby Pluckacre (long lost); Claythorpe (long lost); Cumberworth (house); Dalceby (long lost); Driby (house); East Torrington (use to be determined); Eastville (closed; future uncertain, but has escaped demolition); Farforth (mon., further to recent scheme); Gayton le Marsh (dem.); Goltho (CCT; ruined by lightning strike); Keddington (holiday let; double bed on the site of the altar); Hallington (long lost); Haltham on Bain (CCT); Haugham (CCT; no services); Little Carlton (dem.); Little Cawthorpe (CCT; no services); Low Toynton (mon., now ruined); Maltby le Marsh (mon.); Market Stainton (wrecked; lately closed and being converted to residential use); Midville (closed; future uncertain; for sale); Miningsby (dem.); Moorby (dem.); Muckton (dem; Norman chancel arch in store); North Cockerington (CCT); North Elkington (dem.; adjacent to North Ormsby, also dem.); Old Great Steeping (CCT); Old Woodhall (dem.); Oxcombe (LHCT; no public services); Panton (holiday let); Salmondby (dem.); Saltfleet All Saints (CCT); Saltfleet St Clement (was a workshop; now lately converted to residential use); Scrayfield (dem.); Shoothby/Sloothby (closed, although a chapelry of Willoughby); Skidbrooke w Saltfeet Haven (CCT; often vandalised, and sometimes by Satanists); Sotby (store); South Reston (dem.); South Somercotes (CCT; no services); Sutterby (FFC); Theddlethorpe All Saints (CCT; no services); Tothill (dem.); Waddington (mon.); Walmsgate (long lost); West Barkwith (dem.); West Torrington (dem.); Winceby (dem.); Wispington (mon.); Withern (house, despite flourishing Church primary school); Wood Enderby (mon.); and Yarburgh (CCT; no services). All ancient foundations.

Not is this all. The Lincoln diocese has asked all churches to grade themselves for future use, with Grade 1 being full provision and Grade 5 being closure. Many churches in the area are effectively closed: including (but not limited to) Benniworth (poor condition), Dalby, Gunby by Spilsby (thanks to the NT’s recent car park decisions, of which you may be aware as a Massingberd), Hagnaby, Hainton, Hareby, Hatton, Haugh (poor condition), Huttoft (poor condition), Kirkstead, Lusby, Mavis Enderby (poor condition), Ranby, Stixwould, Toynton St Peter (poor condition), etc., where public worship has effectively ceased, although Benniworth, Lusby, Ranby and Stixwould have had services this month. If they are lucky, they will be festival churches. Some, like North Reston and Saleby will ‘definitely’ be Grade 5.

So, if resources are transferred back to the parish (but how?), will these small, and very vulnerable units be able to sustain themselves? Almost certainly not. If tiny parishes are thrown back upon their own resources a vast number of them will very likely perish quite quickly.

Prof. Milbank has compared the Church to the NHS, in terms of its reach. What facilitates the reach of the NHS? It is the fact that it is a large, national risk pool, in which the nation insures itself. Since it is such a large risk pool the premiums paid, via taxation, are far lower than would be the case were people to self-insure (as in the USA). Therefore, a far smaller proportion of the ‘national dividend’ is expended upon healthcare than in many advanced economies. Collective insurance is always, and everywhere, cheaper and more cost-effective, than self-insurance. The larger the risk pool, the cheaper the premium.

The Church, by contrast, self-insures. Each parish has to cover its costs, as well as pay a premium to the diocese. It is cripplingly expensive to have 12-16,000 risk pools/cost centres, instead of having just one, not least given recent inflation in the cost of labour and materials. It greatly magnifies the vulnerability of parish churches, and increases the risk that they will close and be privatised when the final cohort of regular attendees dies off (the youngest of the reliable cohort of regular attendees will be those who had their formative experiences before c. 1965, meaning that they will be in their late 70s). Time is of the essence.

Simon Jenkins has stated in today’s Guardian (in an article which refers to STC) that churches be vested in local trusts and parish councils. Local trusts will often not outlive their founders, or will struggle (note Covenham St Bartholomew in Lincolnshire, Santon in Norfolk, Southolt in Suffolk, etc.), unless they can become de facto parish halls (viz. Forncett St Mary, Norfolk) or have a large endowment (viz. Otterden, Kent), or have a wealthy patron (viz., Besselsleigh, Oxfordshire, formerly Berks). Parish councils will almost certainly not want the liability (I have spoken to district/parish councillors), and the experience of France demonstrates that the 1905 Law of Separation, which vested the greater churches in central government and the parish churches in the communes, did not work where communes are either so small or anti-clerical, that money is not made available for upkeep.

My plan is to secure the future of the whole stock, or much the greater part of it, in perpetuity.

1. Title to all pre-1828 foundations (and Grade I and II* units established after that date) would be vested in a national religious buildings agency, being an emanation of DDCMS.

2. The Church Commissioners lose about £6bn from their £9.3bn endowment (it’s probably touching £10bn), which is transferred to the new agency to cover the labour and maintenance needed for the vested stock. The Commissioners had £2.6bn in 1997, when they were covering about half of the national stipends bill plus all pension accruals. Since the Pensions Measure 1998 they now only cover episcopal and some capitular stipends, and have not been liable for accruals. The whole burden of stipends and accruals has therefore passed to the parishes via the parish share system at just the point when parishes needed to increase investment in mission to offset the impact of the 1994 liberalisation of Sunday trading (and the transformation of weekend timetables). A very large portion of the Commissioners assets are therefore a function of the massive implicit subsidy of the Commissioners by the parishes. Therefore, the creation of a dowry to fund the agency without calling on the taxpayer (but with the backstop guarantee of the taxpayer) would return to the parishes capital siphoned from them since 1976 and 1998 on a more equitable basis than merely by repealing the 1976 Measure (which was intended to stop clergy selling their freehold, and to deal with the problem of unequal endowments). It would also preserve for public benefit and Christian witness buildings which were funded by past taxation: compulsory church rate to 1868 and tithe (until redemption ceased in 1977).

3. The Church gains a perpetual free right of use to the vested stock.

4. In order to slow the erosion of the dowry, the agency should attempt parallel uses where reasonable and feasible, subject to safeguards. If a PCC considers a parallel use inappropriate, it can appeal to a three member panel chaired by a judge, with at least one representative of the Church.

5. All diocesan administrations are liquidated and are to be transferred to the Church Commissioners, together with all diocesan assets. This would compensate the Commissioners for the loss of the dowry. The dioceses would continue to exist, but solely as pastoral agencies.

6. Therefore, the agency will generate economies of scale to maintain the buildings, which ageing and fading PCCs will never realise (many PCC members are scared of the fiduciary liability), and the agency will have the bargaining power to negotiate with contractors for discounted labour and materials which PCCs will never achieve. The Commissioners will realise economies of scale in the administration of the Church which 42 dioceses will never achieve. Incumbents and PCCs will be liberated from the burden of the buildings, and can concentrate on their core functions. Bishops and archdeacons will be liberated from the burden of acting as amateur CEOs, for which they are not trained, and can concentrate on their core functions. In addition, they will not be as vulnerable to the ‘suasion’ of a few ‘successful’ partisan parishes who threaten to withhold parish share if they do not get their way.

Above all, the existing reach of the Church would be preserved for future generations. The future doesn’t have to look like South Lindsey. However, unless the Church confronts its internal vested interests, it most certainly be a South Lindsey writ large.

I have attended services at getting on for 6,000 churches across much of the country, including most of Norfolk. Your local incumbent, Dr Bundock, whom I am saddened to read will shortly be retiring, will know me.

Many thanks agaun for your thoughts.

    Rev Massingerd-Mundy · 11 January 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Dear “Froghole”
    Thank you for your suggestions as to how and why the Church needs to centralise.
    I was interested to read your comments on the dire situation in Lincolnshire and the situation to do with the ministry there. It is 27 years since I retired and moved to Norfolk, but I have family there still and have remained in touch.
    Suffice to say that Calceby fell into ruin, not long after King Alfred is supposed to have burnt his cooking! Driby was sold long before I arrived there, as was Salmonby even earlier, the others, Farforth, Haugh and Oxcombe were an active part of the SO Group but the Churches very much cared for the their respective estates.
    The key lies in the active pastoral care of the clergy and people working together in their communities, and not in a centralised and controlled system dictating what is to be done and treating faith in God as a disease that can be healed by a telephone call or a sticking plaster visit like the NHS.
    You state Prof. Milbank has the answer for the Church to emulate the NHS in centralisation and corporate insurance in order to avoid waste and make it cheaper to administer and control waste. It is not a path I would consider as valid for the Church.
    The repairs to our churches are helped by many independent trusts and heritage lottery and the valiant efforts of the local community; They are not funded by either the Diocese or the Centre. The Church Commissioners do make contributions to many Cathedrals both in the payment of staff and building repairs.
    I am not sure that any Diocese will agree with their administration being “liquidated”, particularly since they are nearer to the source of the problem and have local knowledge. The role and function of both the Centre and the Diocesan administration may need radicle change, but it needs working out as to whether you view the task from the parish up, which will work, or the top and its systems down, which will not!

    The Parishes need to be given their responsibility back and only be asked to pay the stipend of their clergy to the Diocese. They are perfectly capable of sorting out their problems locally and able to carry out the response to God’s love in their communities, without a central control always wishing to order everything on a financial basis and requesting more money for the privilege. The endowment money which forms the basis of the Church Commissioners Funds all came from the Parishes and needs to be more constructively used to train and support the Parish clergy, in their tasks of large or small Parishes, where God is calling them to go. If they are expected and trained to conform to a system controlled by financial viability and political correctness, then they are going to have great difficulty in responding to the call of God, let alone fulfil the calling to love their people. It is also important for the Commissioners to look after the pensions.

    It is the call of God that is key to all our thinking. It should be primary in all that we do, not an add-on that is so often used to justify the controlling action we may plan to make.
    In our pursuit of power and financial viability we have forgotten that Our Lord called his disciples to trust in God’s loving power that we can see in the Resurrection after the evil of the crucifixion that placed him there. It was this alone which would draw people together and enable them to respond to this love, grow the faith, and in our world today to be that same power which can overcome evil and can heal creation so that our life and his creation may continue.
    The healing power of God works through our response, as humans, to our creator’s unconditional love of us, and thereby work with him to heal and nurture all his creation.
    It is his power we need to draw on, not the trusting of systems we set up to manipulate and control his power to our own selfish and disastrous ends.
    We should not try to remove the right of our local Christian communities as to how today they use their place of worship. If they are not having them in constant use, because the population has moved, then, they can still remain as a place of quiet and meditation, and the area around as place in which to inter their family ashes and a place near to them to find and know God’s presence. In a town there is not the same affinity with the local place and the community. The right to decide how that alteration is done for the community should not be made by an historical preservation society!
    Perhaps you can tell me why we are so keen to keep the innate freedom to choose how we respond and react to God’s unconditional love, when the very systems we seek to put in place to control our conformity to political correctness and financial viability deny that very freedom and seek another purpose?

      Froghole · 15 January 2022 at 1:14 pm

      Many thanks indeed for that, Mr Massingberd-Mundy. That is most kind.

      “Farforth, Haugh and Oxcombe were an active part of the SO Group but the Churches very much cared for the their respective estates”.

      I attended a service at Farforth in 2018, shortly before its closure (and before the draft scheme was published). It was creditably well attended by local standards, so I am not certain why it was closed. It is now a monument. Haugh is in poor condition, and I have not seen any services advertised there for some time. I have been informed that no public services have been held at Oxcombe for a considerable period of time. Unfortunately, there are a number of churches in the area where support has become so attenuated that basic maintenance is no longer possible. For example, at the doomed church at Salesby the regular congregation is about 2 (although the advent service I attended last month had about 80).

      “You state Prof. Milbank has the answer for the Church to emulate the NHS in centralisation and corporate insurance in order to avoid waste and make it cheaper to administer and control waste.”

      I apologise for not having made myself clear. I believe that Prof. Milbank and her colleagues take an entirely different view, one that elides with your opinion that matters should be handled locally, where possible.

      I should perhaps mention that I have now attended services at about 5,800 churches since the late 2000s. I do not believe that it is realistic to suppose that local churches are capable of taking care of themselves, given the extent to which support has collapsed in many places. My argument is that centralisation is necessary so that the weaker churches are not left to fend, and thus fail, by themselves: a form of ecclesiastical eugenics. Moreover, failure is likely/inevitable based on current trends even in well-populated places of acute pastoral need. As far as I am concerned, it does not matter whether resources are centralised or decentralised; what matters is that the Church retains something akin to its present reach so that it can fulfil its mission as a church for all (rather than lapsing into the status of one fissiparous sect amongst many). This, I believe, is more likely to be effected by means of consolidating resources, rather than dissipating them.

      “The repairs to our churches are helped by many independent trusts and heritage lottery and the valiant efforts of the local community”.

      Indeed, and many independent trusts will not be able to sustain their churches because they lack the means (and the economies of scale) to procure labour and materials at reasonable prices. An example of this would be Botolphs (West Sussex). It is an ancient church with frescoes from the ‘Lewes school’. It is situated on a bluff over the Adur; drainage issues led to the chancel pulling away from the rest of the church. The church was down to one evensong per month by 2012. In 2013 it was decided to close the church because the estimate for providing the necessary underpinning given during the quinquennial was in the region of £800,000. This was massively more than a small congregation could support. Closure became inevitable. Fortunately, the frescoes permitted a vesting in the CCT. The CCT (which is funded by the taxpayer and the Commissioners in the ratio of 70%:30%) was able to effect the work for under £500,000; a large saving attributable to the bargaining power which the CCT is able to wield, and which a PCC will never generate. Tomorrow I will return to see Little Wigborough (Essex), where a closure scheme is pending. It will be fortunate if it is vested in the CCT or FFC, and there is a real risk not only of closure (which is almost certain) but of ruin, as per the local examples of Langenhoe, Great Birch (which has lately been ‘saved’ for conversion to residential use) and Virley. Again, the estimate for dealing with the subsidence issues afflicting that church is in the region of £800,000. It is therefore quite unrealistic to suppose that local trusts can come to the rescue. Take your area of Norfolk (I have attended services in all but about 70 churches in the county): churches like South Pickenham, Wendling, Weasenham All Saints, Toftrees, Stanfield, West Laxham, etc., no longer have viable congregations, and services are rare (though I appreciate that West Laxham has messy services, and Weasenham All Saints is used occasionally by the school). There is a vast area of the Brecklands, from Swaffham to Thetford, where the Church is in a state of extreme attenuation: for example, Gooderstone, despite the presence of a Church primary school, has an electoral roll of one person. It is not realistic to suppose that these churches can sustain themselves through their own initiatives; there is the NDC, but it is at the limits of what it can do; there is also the NDCT, but its future is not wholly certain because of the massive queue of churches wishing to be vested in it. The FFC is a very small charity (though it recently received a one off payment from DDCMS), and it must concentrate on Wales (it gets only £50,000 p/a from Cadw, and the collapse of the Church in Wales is, if anything, more severe than in England). The CCT, as noted, does have bargaining power and is now effectively a diocese in its own right, but it subsists via a form of ecclesiastical cannibalism: the 30% provided by the Commissioners comes not from their endowment but from the sales proceeds of other closed churches.

      In addition, to suppose that local churches can provide the means and energy to sustain the buildings, is to accept that the outcome will be regressive. For example, Bacup (Lancashire) closed very controversially in 2013; at the same time Heene (West Sussex) was saved. Both schemes went to appeal in the pastoral committee. Bacup is in a highly deprived area and was not advance its cause as effectively as Heene, where well-heeled professionals were able to present a very cogent case. Those churches that are more likely to survive a devolution of power to the parishes will be affluent churches with articulate (mostly professional) advocates. The outcome is therefore likely to consolidate the reputation of the Church as a sect catering for the middle class.

      As to HLF subventions, they were cut drastically from 2016. One of the reasons for the current fire-sale of assets, including many ancient churches, by the Church of Scotland is that the decline in HLF support was a major blow for a poorly endowed Church. An appeal was made to the devolved government to make up the loss, which was denied. The General Assembly then passed the Radical Action Plan in 2019, which is now putting the liquidation of the majority of the stock of churches in train. For instance, in Shetland, the number of churches is being reduced from over 30 to about 10. Other presbyteries are wielding the knife just as savagely (in Aberdeenshire, Fifeshire, etc.).

      “I am not sure that any Diocese will agree with their administration being “liquidated”, particularly since they are nearer to the source of the problem and have local knowledge”

      They frequently don’t have local knowledge, or as much as they believe themselves to have (in my experience) and it is possible for a tyranny to be as, or more, oppressive when it is relatively near at hand as when it is distant. Moreover, DBFs (and their adjuncts in DACs) have a fiduciary obligation to advance the interests of the diocese, as distinct from the parish. What they care about is the diocesan balance sheet, and not [really] parochial balance sheets. The interests of the diocese and of the parish are therefore, quite often, mutually exclusive. This is why DBFs (including Norwich, as Dr Bundock will tell you) have been pressing PCCs for greater parish share subventions, even during the pandemic. Insofar as the DBFs have an interest in the welfare of the parishes it is very largely as a source of income. The disappearance of what is perhaps the most unnecessary layer of the Church (save only as a pastoral agency) would therefore be a very positive development. Naturally, they will not agree to their own abolition; they are an interest, and the primary purpose of any bureaucracy is to defend its own interests, even at the expense of the wider objectives of the Church.

      “but it needs working out as to whether you view the task from the parish up, which will work, or the top and its systems down, which will not!”

      All I am arguing is that PCCs and incumbents be liberated from the burden of the buildings, so that they can concentrate on their core functions. And that the buildings are secured for use by the Church in perpetuity, so as to relieve communities from the growing anxiety that when the current generation of regular attendees dies off they will still have a church and some form of Christian witness and worship.

      “The Parishes need to be given their responsibility back and only be asked to pay the stipend of their clergy to the Diocese.”

      Again, the likelihood is that this will prefer more affluent communities to less affluent communities, so the outcome will probably be regressive.

      “They are perfectly capable of sorting out their problems locally and able to carry out the response to God’s love in their communities”

      A great many parishes are not able to sort out their problems locally for the reasons I have given above.

      “The endowment money which forms the basis of the Church Commissioners Funds all came from the Parishes”

      Unfortunately, this is not the case. The endowments are based upon the episcopal and capitular estates vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners after 1840. Parochial endowments have almost never been alienated to the Church Commissioners, save only that under the old (1703-1946) system of the Bounty, first fruits and annates from wealthy livings were applied for the augmentation and relief of poor livings. However, the Commissioners have received a massive implicit subsidy via the parish share system. By the early 1960s about 75% of the Commissioners’ income was applied to cover the stipends and pensions of parish clergy. Support for stipends (other than the stipends of hierarchs) ceased in 1995. The funding of pension accruals ceased in 1998. Therefore, the entire burden of pay and superannuation passed to the parishes via the parish share system at just the time that the liberalisation of Sunday trading (1994) led most remaining families to stop attending services. The Commissioners’ assets were £9.3bn at the last annual report, and have latterly been growing at a rate of about £500m a year. How could they fail to achieve such success when they had been relieved of their primary overheads in 1995-98? There has therefore been a very regressive transfer of capital from the poorest and most vulnerable tier of the Church to the strongest and most affluent tier.

      “We should not try to remove the right of our local Christian communities as to how today they use their place of worship.”

      I rather agree, and am not suggesting that. I am proposing that the place of worship as a Christian place of worship is preserved.

      “If they are not having them in constant use, because the population has moved, then, they can still remain as a place of quiet and meditation, and the area around as place in which to inter their family ashes and a place near to them to find and know God’s presence”

      How is this to be funded? Actually, I am vehemently of the view that churches continue to be used for worship even if the population has fallen. Moreover, there is always the possibility that a community might become resettled. For example, the closures of Chilton (Suffolk), Stansted Mountfitchet (Essex), Broughton (Buckinghamshire), etc., now look rather maladroit since those churches have become surrounded by sprawl, or are at risk of being subsumed (as Fleet Marston (Buckinghamshire), Eastwick, Gilston (both Hertfordshire), Northmoor (Somerset), etc.).

      “The right to decide how that alteration is done for the community should not be made by an historical preservation society!”

      I agree, but would add the rider that the wider community (which may include the likes of the Victorian Society) ought to have a say. As mentioned previously, churches have been funded by general taxation (to 1868-1977) and have received taxpayer grants since then. It could be argued that the wider community, as well as the worshipping community, has a moral stake in them. One of the objectives of GS2222 (which STP has been created to oppose) is to prevent the wider community from having any say in the closure or disposal of churches.

      “Perhaps you can tell me why we are so keen to keep the innate freedom to choose how we respond and react to God’s unconditional love, when the very systems we seek to put in place to control our conformity to political correctness and financial viability deny that very freedom and seek another purpose?”

      The ‘freedom to choose’ can also mean the freedom for others to fail. I am reminded of Lord Darling’s aphorism that “in England, justice is open to all, like the Ritz”. Anatole France put it another way: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread”. Moreover, ‘freedom’ is a shibboleth: there is no such thing as real freedom, and almost never was. It is like arguing in favour of free markets, where the only places which have ever had genuine, and perfect, free markets have been for conch shells in South Sea islands. When people talk about ‘freedom’, what they often mean (in the unlikely event they are capable of being honest with themselves) is the right for them to extract/extort rents from the less well off. Thus, when people write that the parishes should be able to take care of themselves, what I fear they often really mean is the right to retain their capital; in short, “I’m alright, Jack” (arguably the national motto), and that they will be as attentive to the needs of less affluent (and often local) communities as they will be to the needs of Ecuador or Chad, which is to say that they will not be at all.

      Now I am strongly in favour of parishes retaining more capital, if the parish share system is reformed (and on the back of the buildings being protected), but not in their retaining/hoarding everything such that less fortunate church communities can be allowed to go to the wall.

      You also refer to ‘conformity’, but the Elizabethan settlement of the Church (as implemented by Parker and Whitgift) was precisely that: a coercive settlement aimed at securing complete conformity.

      One of the reasons why there has been a reaction against the current leadership of the Church by STP and others is that: (i) the traditional financial bases of parish finance had been abolished or had broken down by the last war, and centralisation was perceived as being necessary to offset that baleful trend; (ii) the centralisation was secured politically on the back of a promise that, although parishes would lose their endowments (where they had an endowment) the quid pro quo is that pastoral support would be secured; (iii) that quid pro quo soon came to be unaffordable because even the appropriated endowments did not come close to the cost of maintaining the clergy, even on modest pay and rations; (iv) voluntarism does not work where there are declining numbers of volunteers; (v) when the ship is sinking everyone wants to scramble for that park of the deck which remains above water, and they can do so by agitating against the 1995/97 financial settlement; (vi) the clergy often have a rather indulgent attitude towards their own value-added (which is frequently of highly uneven quality) and, as such, wish to emphasise their importance in contradistinction to oppressive diocesan functionaries (viz. Wymondham Abbey) or a loss of income.

      However, it is my deep-felt hope and prayer that the Church, in terms of its present reach, can be secured for the greater glory of God and the dissemination of His Word, even in a godless generation. What I have proposed in various places is intended to promote that objective.

      Thank you very much again for your cogent and useful thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *